Today is the Feastday of two of the most courageous women who have ever lived.

Today is the feast of the inviolable dignity of motherhood.

Today is a feast of the celebration of the beauty and the gift of womanhood – and all that it can be.

Today, in the Church, we rejoice and share in the joy of the whole host of heaven, at the visitation of Our Lady to St Elizabeth.

Picture it:

A young girl and an old woman: both of whom are offered and accept the gift of motherhood in the most extraordinary and incredible circumstances.  Who could believe that it should be God’s will to allow these two – Mary and Elizabeth – to be subjected to the scorn and derision of neighbours and community who may well have been scandalized at what had happened to them.  And all for the sake of His glory?

Behold, Mary.

Until this point in her life, she had been a precious and beloved child of her parents.  They trusted her implicitly; delighted in her goodness; were impressed by the depth of her faith and the way that her friendship with God guided all her actions – so much so that even defined her.  It was a joy and a privilege for Saints Joachim and Anne to be her parents.  She was truly a gift to them from God.

And now this.

A child – little more than a child – with a plan and a dream for her life, in an instant taken from her.  What will people say?  How they will talk!  And when they hear how it happened … … …

Behold, Elizabeth.

An old woman.  Her dream all her married life; her hope and that of Zechariah was that their love and fidelity to each other and to God, would bear fruit in parenthood.  To be given the chance of bringing a child into the world and to share with that child the beauty of faith.  And it never happened.  Through years of disappointed hope, they had at last accepted their fate and were now too old even to wish or to believe.

And now this.

Old enough to be grandparents!  And to have to begin: to be entrusted with the care of a life so new and so dependent.  What will people say?  How they will talk!  And when they hear how it happened … … …

 

In the chaos and complexity of emotions they must have experienced, they nevertheless knew and understood the joy of the truth.  God had extended to these two women, and to Joseph and Zechariah – an invitation to consent to His will and to be sharers in His divine joy, by accepting the invitation and gift.  They trusted in His mercy: trusted that He was the source of the grace they would need – and the courage and love they would need.

And the world was made new.

At the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, two women found in one another the word of hope and comfort and of strength they needed to hear.  They found understanding, support and consolation and renewed faith in the Lord’s words, ‘Do not be afraid.’  They were not alone.

The LORD is my strength and my song.

As we draw near to the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, this feast of the Visitation seems to have an even more powerful message for us, who have been baptised and have received the sacrament of the Eucharist.

When we were presented to the Lord to be baptised, it was almost as though we were being offered to the Lord as bodies that would be His very own.  This is my body, offered for you.  We were offered to the Lord to receive the gift of faith – and in so doing we, as it were, gave ourselves to Him in order that He might be able to claim us for Himself, and say of us ‘This is my Body.’

The wonder of our faith is that in being claimed by God, we did not lose our identity: we did not cease to be ourselves.  Our baptism incorporates us into the body of Christ, as ourselves, so that it is as you and as me that we are made to be a place for Christ to call ‘home.’

Do we dare to believe?  Do we have the courage and insight to be able to say with Mary, that ‘He who is mighty has done great things for me?’  Dare we even imagine the truth that we have within our grasp, the ability to say ‘yes’ to the invitation to believe that our very presence in the world has within it the seeds of enhancing its beauty?