One of the most beautiful moments in history was that when pregnancy met pregnancy when childbearers became the first heralds of the King of Kings. All pagan religions begin with the teachings of adults, but Christianity begins with the birth of a Child. From that day to this, Christians have ever been the defenders of the family and the love of generation. If we ever sat down to write out what we would expect the Infinite God to do, certainly the last thing we would expect would be to see Him imprisoned in a carnal ciborium for nine months; and the next to last thing we would expect is that the “greatest man ever born of woman” while yet in his mother’s womb, would salute the yet imprisoned God-man. But this is precisely what took place in the Visitation.
At the Annunciation the archangel told Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth, was about to become the mother of John the Baptist. Mary was then a young girl, but her cousin was ”advanced in years,” that is, quite beyond the normal age of conceiving. “See, moreover, how it fares with thy cousin Elizabeth; she is old, yet she too has conceived a son; she who was reproached with barrenness is now in her sixth month, to prove that nothing is impossible with God. And Mary said, ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to thy word.’ And with that the angel left her.” (Luke 1:36-38)
The birth of Christ is without regard to man; the birth of John the Baptist is without regard to age! “Nothing is impossible with God.” The Scripture continues the story: “In the days that followed, Mary rose up and went with all haste to a city of Juda, in the hill country where Zachary dwelt; and entering in she gave Elizabeth greeting. No sooner had Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, than the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Ghost; so that she cried out with a loud voice, “Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord? Why, as soon as ever the voice of thy greeting sounded in my ears, the child in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed art thou for thy believing; the message that was brought to thee from the Lord shall have fulfillment.” (Luke 1:39-45)
Mary “went with all haste”; she is always in a hurry to do good. With deliberate speed she becomes the first nurse of Christian civilization. The woman hastens to meet a woman. They serve best their neighbor who bear the Christ within their hearts and souls. Bearing in herself the Secret of Salvation, Mary journeys five days from Nazareth to the city of Hebron where, according to tradition, rested the ashes of the founders of the people of God, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The terraced-fields of Juda
pregnant with seed
called out to her
as she passed, praising the Child
she was yet to bear,
invoking His Blessing
on their expectancy.*
“She gave Elizabeth greeting”; springtime served the autumn. She, who is to bear Him Who will say: “I came not to be ministered unto but to minister” now ministers unto her cousin who bears only His trumpet and His voice in the wilderness. Nothing so provokes the service of the needy as the consciousness of one’s own unworthiness when visited by the grace of God, The handmaid of the Lord becomes the handmaid of Elizabeth.
On hearing the woman’s greeting, the child whom Elizabeth bore within her “leaped in her womb.” The Old Testament is here meeting the New Testament; the shadows dissolve with joy before the substance. All the longings and expectations of thousands of years as to Him Who would be the Saviour are now fulfilled in this one ecstatic moment when John the Baptist greets Christ, the Son of the Living God.
Mary is present at three births: at the birth of John the Baptist, at the birth of her own Divine Son, and at the “birth” of John, the Evangelist, at the foot of the Cross, as the Master saluted him: “Behold thy mother!” Mary, the Woman, presided at the three great moments of life: at a birth on the occasion of the Visitation, at a marriage at the Marriage Feast of Cana, and at a Death, or surrender of Life, at the Crucifixion of her Divine Son.
“The child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Ghost.” A Pentecost came before Pentecost. The physical body of Christ within Mary now fills John the Baptist with the Spirit of Christ; thirty-three years later the Mystical Body of Christ, His Church, will be filled with the Holy Spirit, as Mary, too, will be in the midst of the Apostles abiding in prayer. John is sanctified by Jesus. So Jesus is not as John – not man alone, but God, as well.
The second part of the second most beautiful prayer in the world, the Hail Mary, is now about to be written; the first part was spoken by an angel: “Hail (Mary) full of grace; the Lord is with Thee; blessed art thou amongst women.” (Luke 1:28)
Now Elizabeth adds the second part in a “loud voice”; “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Jesus)” Old age is here not jealous of youth or privilege, for Elizabeth makes the first public proclamation that Mary is the Mother of God: “How have I deserved to be thus visited by the mother of my Lord?” She learned it less from Mary’s lips than from the Spirit of God nestling over her womb. Mary received the Spirit of God through an angel; Elizabeth was the first to receive it through Mary.
Cousin-nurse at birth, Mother-nurse at death. There is nothing Mary has that is for herself alone – not even her Son. Before He is born, her Son belongs to others. No sooner does she have the Divine Host within herself than she rises from the Communion rail of Nazareth to visit the aged and to make her young. Elizabeth would never live to see her son lose his head to the dancing stepdaughter of Herod, but Mary would live and die at once in seeing her Son taste death, that death might be no more.
* Calvin Le Compte, I Sing of a Maiden, Macmillan, 1949.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) is considered by many to be the most influential Catholic of the 20th century in America. Millions of people watched his incredibly popular television series every week, “Life is Worth Living”, and millions more listened to his radio program, “The Catholic Hour”. Wherever he preached in public, standing-room-only crowds packed churches and halls to hear him. He had the same kind of charisma and holiness that attracts so many people to Pope John Paul II, who called Sheen “a loyal son of the Church.” Learn more about Archbishop Sheen by reading his autobiography, Treasure In Clay, or visiting the Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Foundation website.