Sunday, December 23, 2012

A Visitation...not a visit.

Readings for Sunday, December 23/ Fourth Sunday of Advent:
Micah 5:1-4
Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45

With Christmas just two days away, the natural tendency of our hearts is to look forward to the birth of the infant Lord, rightly so. But if we look too much to the Lord’s birth and miss the message of this last Sunday in Advent, we do ourselves a great disservice. In the past few weeks we have heard again and again the call to ‘prepare the way’ for the Lord’s coming and to ‘make straight the paths’ of our hearts. Those exhortations are certainly needed to get us into the mindset of receiving the Lord once more as the infant of Bethlehem. But as we conclude this blessed season, it is now time to transition from preparing for the Lord’s coming to understanding what to do when He finally comes. For this reason Mother Church holds up for our reflection this weekend the perfect model of discipleship: the Blessed Virgin Mary.

While some might be confused or even object to a homily on the Sunday before Christmas being about the Blessed Virgin Mary, it actually makes a great deal of sense if we understand the role of Our Blessed Mother in the salvation of mankind. Never does Mary try to draw the attention to herself, but always points to Christ. In a sense, her entire life and vocation is to become a bridge by which God comes to men and men go to God. God specially chose her and gave her unique graces to bear the only begotten Son of God in her own flesh and to bring Him forth into our world. It is Mary who inaugurates the ministry of Christ when at Cana she compels Him to perform his first public miracle. After the death of the Lord and even to this day in apparitions around the world, she always comes to us with a message of drawing closer to Christ and takes as her mission nothing other than making a reality the union of our souls with His. With that in mind, let us now turn to the story of Mary's Visitation to Elizabeth.

The first line of the Gospel tells of how Mary “set out and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah.” Notices that Mary travels with haste – she goes quickly and with specific intention in mind; she had a mission. That mission is why this story is known as the Visitation to Elizabeth and not just the Visit to Elizabeth. A visit is informal, relaxed. A visitation, however, is something formal, serious, and has a goal in mind. Having conceived God in her womb, Mary goes in haste to share the good news with Elizabeth, and because she bears Christ in her womb, John the Baptist leaps for joy at her presence and while still in his mother's womb begins to point to Christ and prepare the way for His coming into the world. Too, we find on the lips of Elizabeth the beautiful proclamation of the Lord’s coming to Earth as she exclaims “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” She knows it's not just her cousin who has arrived, but her cousin who holds within her the very God of all Creation. So we see that the Visitation is much more than a visit to a relative; it is a sharing of the joy of the Good News that salvation is at hand. In this we find both the model and the message of what we are called to do in these coming days.

In a couple of days the Lord Jesus will come once again looking for a place to be born. We celebrate His birth in Bethlehem in a manger, but the place He desires most to be born is within our very hearts. And once He takes rest within us, we, like Mary, will have the mission of going out to others to share the good news, to make visitations of our own in order to share the Good News of Christ’s coming and our salvation. Our world is desperately in need of the Good News. We need only check the newspapers or internet each day to hear more tragic news, more cause for despair and more a falling away from faith. It is our mission to share the Good News of Christ to those in need: those who need peace, forgiveness, hope, love, and redemption. And if they don't hear it from us Christians, they won't hear it at all. The question we each must ask, then, is to whom is the Lord calling us to make a Visitation? We all know people who need to be renewed in faith, ransomed from sin, or brought to Christ for the first time. May God grant us the discernment to know to whom we shall go, the courage to make that visitation to them, and the openness to speak His words to them. And this all we ask through Our Blessed Mother's loving intercession, that we might truly become bridges in imitation of her.