“As a woman, as a baptized person, as a consecrated person, and as an apostle, the Apostle of the Interior Life in imitation of Mary, desires to exercise her role as mother, making herself available to the work of the Holy Spirit, for making possible, so to say, the Incarnation of the Divine Word in the souls that she assists spiritually.” – AVI Rule of Life
As the talk we were listening to ended, a student in the row in front of me turned around and asked, “Can we talk?” She was a girl I met with regularly for spiritual direction, and I could tell right away from the pain in her eyes that something was wrong. We left the crowded hall and as soon as we were away from the noise she looked at me and started crying. The talk on dating we had just listened to had touched something deep in her heart that she needed to let out. After she shared what was hurting, I asked if she wanted to pray together. She said yes, so we went straight to the chapel, avoiding the crowd. As we knelt together before Jesus, my heart was throbbing as I sensed the pain of this spiritual daughter. Invoking the Holy Spirit, I began to guide her through a moment of prayer together. She gradually became calmer and we remained together in the chapel for several more minutes. When we finally left, she seemed more at peace and I gave her a big hug before parting ways.
This experience of spiritual motherhood made me think of what Mary might have felt like, especially in mystery of the Visitation. Just like Mary, I felt called to go “in haste” to tend to the needs of another:
“During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, ‘Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’” – Lk 1: 38-45
The first thing we can notice is that Mary set out “in haste” to go visit Elizabeth. She could have just remained focused on herself and on her own problems. She was actually in quite the predicament, since she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and would have to find some way to explain to Joseph and to her relatives what happened. But Mary doesn’t focus on herself, but rather turns her attention towards her cousin Elizabeth.
How is Mary able to do this? Because she is filled with the Holy Spirit and with Jesus. Mary doesn’t have to work or to strain for this to happen: she simply has to be receptive. Her secret is not so much what she does, but how well she receives. When we receive well from the Lord it will overflow into a gift for others. The more we are filled with God the more we will be able to share His presence. The image of pregnancy can be very powerful here. When a woman is expecting, her center of gravity changes, and she is naturally propelled forward. In the same way, when Mary becomes pregnant with Jesus, she is impelled forward and outward. We can all ask to be so filled with Jesus that our spiritual center of gravity changes.
We see Mary forget herself and set out in haste to visit Elizabeth. And what happens when they meet? Mary greets Elizabeth, and Elizabeth is so struck by Mary’s greeting, that the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps. Jesus’s presence in Mary’s womb is so powerful that it causes new life to leap up in others. The same should be true for us: Jesus’ presence in our hearts should be so apparent that it causes new life to spring up on others as well. How do we do this? It starts not so much with what we do but with who we are. If we are men and women filled with God’s grace and led by the Holy Spirit, we will touch others simply with our being. But then beyond that, we can share Jesus through our joy. I can only image what a beautiful smile Mary must have had on her face when she went to embrace her cousin Elizabeth. I’m sure she was overflowing with joy. Joy is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and it is contagious. Who can’t help cheering up when they receive a beautiful smile, or a word of encouragement?
One of the verses from this passage that strikes me is when Elizabeth says to Mary: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Mary is blessed because of her great faith in God. St. Augustine writes, “Therefore Mary is more blessed in receiving the faith of Christ, than in conceiving the flesh of Christ … Her nearness as a Mother would have been of no profit to Mary, had she not borne Christ in her heart after a more blessed manner than in her flesh.” Mary is the perfect example for us of living out the theological virtue of faith.
One of the titles under which Mary is invoked is “Queen of the Apostles”. This can be understood in two ways: that Mary rules over the twelve apostles, but also that she herself is the Apostle par excellence. This mystery of the Visitation shows us how Mary is a true Apostle and a true Mother, filled with the Holy Spirit and sent out to bring new life to the world. Her example of receptivity, maternity, selflessness, and faith are the model for our own discipleship. Mary shows us how to bring forth new life. Let us imitate her example of going “with haste” to bring Christ to the world.
I will ask the Holy Spirit to show me one person He is calling me to “visit” like Mary and share Jesus with. The next time He sends me I will respond promptly without thinking about myself or calculating the cost.