by Rev. Matthew H. Zuberbueler
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Written to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
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, "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."
When we say heart, we usually mean more than our physical hearts. “She put her whole heart into that project” means that she totally dedicated herself to it. In the same way, we understand the meaning of things done half-heartedly. As believers in the Gospel of Jesus, we know he calls us to love him totally — with our whole mind, heart and soul. We also know that we have room to grow to live this way. Hopefully, we welcome that understanding and take seriously the familiar refrain “let every heart prepare him room.”
This Sunday, so close to the Christmas celebrations, we find the activity of some special hearts, those beating for Jesus, Mary and Elizabeth. First, Elizabeth: we know that she and her husband, Zechariah, prayed to be blessed with a child. Is it possible that they continued that prayer even in their older age? If so, had it become routine but no longer so confident? Our prayers for things that don’t happen can become that kind of prayers. One might say they become half-hearted, offered but no longer really expecting an outcome we like. We cannot say if that was the case for Zechariah and Elizabeth. Given their standing as holy people — prominent in the Gospels as the parents of “the greatest man born of woman,” John the Baptist — we can give them every benefit of the doubt. But, we can fully expect that the surprise news that they had a son on the way was news that fully engaged their hearts and animated their faith in the goodness of God.
Elizabeth, like any believing mother, began a constant meditation of gratitude, joy and hope, as she prepared for the birth of little John. “What will this child be?” wasn’t only a thought the neighbors had. We can be sure that Elizabeth was blessed with very fruitful prayer in the days leading up to her son’s birth. We see in this Sunday’s Gospel passage that the Holy Spirit was very active in bringing her up to date on the context and meaning of her son’s birth. What did she know and when did she know it? Did Mary send word that she was coming to visit and help?
We can meditate fruitfully on the sublime and special moment of Mary’s voice reaching Elizabeth’s ears and heart: “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, ‘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.’” So much is going on in this moment. It appears that Elizabeth, in this moment, is given a lot more of the story. This means that not only is Mary carrying the Savior on this most famous visit, her voice also carries with it the fast acting and illuminating power of the Holy Spirit.
We can have no doubt that Mary was wholeheartedly living her part of the salvation story. Elizabeth, especially since the news of her blessed pregnancy, also was involved wholeheartedly. The moment was right for the two of them to share openly the mysteries they were living out and even making possible (by their cooperation and faith), mysteries full of wonder. These two women call us to share what they shared, to ponder with them the wonder they were bringing to us all. The joy they experienced is a joy they felt in the mission of their unborn sons. Mothers understand things better than other people do. Mothers also are glad to share their joy. We can enter the saving realities by welcoming in our lives the visits of the Holy Ones. Recognize the key to God’s action in this world (as Elizabeth did) and find the joy: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled."
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