Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation when the Blessed Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth immediately after the events of the Annunciation when the Angel Gabriel proclaimed the conception of the Christ Child by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Lucan narrative in Chapter 1 is about as rich a text as one could ask for. It is rich in OT echoes with strains of 1 Samuel woven into the thread of the story. It foreshadows Luke’s emphasis of the Holy Spirit so profoundly described in his second book, Acts of the Apostles.
Mary’s canticle, traditionally called the Magnificat because of its first word in Latin translation, is a mosaic of Old Testament quotations and allusions interpreting the coming of Jesus. As a whole the canticle sees these actions of God as part of a longstanding process of overthrowing proud human expectations and exalting the lowly. Mary’s word for it is “mercy.”
It a passage that is so exultant that it is part of the mosaic built over the millennia that bespeaks of how we consider Mary in the role of salvation history – a mosaic that richly, perhaps extravagantly, places Mary above us, on a pedestal, beyond our reach. We think of her as the Queen of Heaven, robed in the royal draping of the Queen Mother – and so she is. We think of her as the Pieta at the foot of the cross, the Mother of Sorrows – and so she is. Think of all the titles and honorifics that we bestow upon her.
The Episcopal writer, Debi Thomas, laments “ we (the Church) have buried Mary under so many layers of theology, piety, and politics, she’s nearly impossible to excavate. Some of us pray to her. Others ignore her on monotheistic principle. Some call her “Theotokos,” the God-bearer. Others champion her as a model of holy femininity — ever sinless, ever virgin, ever mother. To some, she is a child prophet extraordinaire. To others, the victim of divine manipulation.”
That might shock you, but her point is well taken. How is it that the legend of Mary being raised in the Temple as a scholar and scribe took root in some Catholic circles? Was there something we could not imagine – that God would pick an insignificant teenager from the middle of nowhere to be the Mother of Jesus? God has a history of picking all sorts of unlikely folk to unroll another chapter of salvation history. Why not Mary?
Mary who at the dawn of the morning after the Annunciation realizes she is an unwed pregnant woman. At best, it renders her an object of scornful gossip. At worst, it places her at risk of death by stoning. And so she runs, not in denial of her “Yes” to the divine initiative, but runs to the one person who might understand. “Needless to say, she needs safety, affirmation, empathy, and companionship. She needs someone to recognize, nurture, deepen, and celebrate the work of God in her life. Someone who will receive, not reject. Love, not judge. Nourish, not condemn. Could there possibly be a better job description for the Church? A better prototype for Christian community?” (Debi Thomas) She treks the 130 miles from Nazareth to Ein Karem, the village of springs, near Jerusalem.
There is so much more that could be said, but here is another piece of the mosaic of Mary in the role of salvation history. A simple young woman with the courage to say “yes” to grace and then live out the consequences, feet on the ground, the simple draping of a peasant women, quietly living out life in the backwaters of Nazareth wondering it was a dream, but every faithful for God to reveal His plan in His own time.