The Great Lesson of The Visitation

The Great Lesson of The Visitation

On May 31st, in the Roman liturgical calendar, we celebrated with great joy the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On this feast day we commemorate when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth.

As the Gospel of St. Luke amply shows, the meeting between these two women of God was undoubtedly a moment of great joy. The common denominator between the two was that both of them were pregnant in unexpected situations. On her part, Elizabeth, being old, thought that her womb was completely closed to conception. But here she was, carrying in her womb St. John the Baptist. Whereas Mary, according to the Angel’s message, conceived the Son of God, Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

This fantastic meeting between these two anawim, the poor ones who kept being faithful to God no matter the times of difficulty they were in, reminds us of the great catechesis given by Pope St John Paul II on the subject in his general audience of Wednesday 23 May 2001:

There is a second term which we use to define those who pray in the Psalm [149]: they are the anawim, "the poor and lowly ones" (v. 4). The expression turns up often in the Psalter. It indicates not just the oppressed, the miserable, the persecuted for justice, but also those who, with fidelity to the moral teaching of the Alliance with God, are marginalized by those who prefer to use violence, riches and power. In this light one understands that the category of the "poor" is not just a social category but a spiritual choice. It is what the famous first Beatitude means: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5,3). The prophet Zephaniah spoke to the anawim as special persons: "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do his commands; seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you may be hidden on the day of wrath of the Lord" (Zep 2,3).

It is only those who are poor in spirit, who choose to be humble, that are open to God’s invitation in their lives. It is them who are ready to let Jesus open them for the least one of his brethren. The anawim strongly believe Jesus’ word when he says: Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matt 25:40).

In Pope Francis’ view, the anawim are the ones who are ready to interiorise the culture of encounter which is so badly needed in our individualistic society we are living in. We can simply recall a morning meditation in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae entitled For a culture of encounter, given on Tuesday 13 September 2016. In his initial verses Pope Francis said: An invitation to work for “the culture of encounter”, in a simple way, “as Jesus did”: not just seeing, but looking; not just hearing, but listening; not just passing people by, but stopping with them; not just saying “what a shame, poor people!”, but allowing yourself to be moved with compassion; “and then to draw near, to touch and to say: ‘Do not weep’ and to give at least a drop of life”.

In his encyclical letter on fraternity and social friendship, Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis described this culture of encounter in very specific words when he said: In today’s world, the sense of belonging to a single human family is fading, and the dream of working together for justice and peace seems an outdated utopia. What reigns instead is a cool, comfortable and globalized indifference, born of deep disillusionment concealed behind a deceptive illusion: thinking that we are all-powerful, while failing to realize that we are all in the same boat. This illusion, unmindful of the great fraternal values, leads to “a sort of cynicism. For that is the temptation we face if we go down the road of disenchantment and disappointment… Isolation and withdrawal into one’s own interests are never the way to restore hope and bring about renewal. Rather, it is closeness; it is the culture of encounter. Isolation, no; closeness, yes. Culture clash, no; culture of encounter, yes” (no.30).

Moreover, this culture of encounter is real wisdom. Thus, Pope Francis says: True wisdom demands an encounter with reality (no. 47). What this practically implies is the ability to sit down and listen to others, typical of interpersonal encounters, … [This] is paradigmatic of the welcoming attitude shown by those who transcend narcissism and accept others, caring for them and welcoming them into their lives (no.48). When confronted with a a deaf world (no.48) the Holy Father encourages us by saying: We must not lose our ability to listen.” Saint Francis “heard the voice of God, he heard the voice of the poor, he heard the voice of the infirm and he heard the voice of nature. He made of them a way of life. My desire is that the seed that Saint Francis planted may grow in the hearts of many” (no.48).

Hence, authentic encounters (no.50) are the ones based on the communion of a triune God. Fratelli Tutti states: If we go to the ultimate source of that love which is the very life of the triune God, we encounter in the community of the three divine Persons the origin and perfect model of all life in society. Theology continues to be enriched by its reflection on this great truth (no. 85).

As a conclusion we can say that when we ponder seriously and genuinely on the greatest truth that we can ever come across, the Trinitarian communion, our lives are purified, redeemed and enriched to the point of being a living true charity by incorporating all the [] elements in its concern for others (no. 165). Let us never forget that if we want to encounter and help one another, we have to dialogue (no.98).

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Written by
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap