Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Sunday Word

Our readings for the Fourth Sunday of Advent speak of holy women.

We meet Elizabeth, a saint of patience, a saint of eternal waiting, a saint of Advent. She was a woman up there in years, presumed to be barren, when God brought a child into her life. And at this moment in the Gospels, she is really the first to encounter Christ. She was the first to welcome Jesus, by welcoming his mother.

And, like so many others in the centuries that followed, she was changed by her encounter with Christ. Elizabeth felt the child in her womb leap – and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

She sensed a miracle standing before her. And she was moved to ask the question that so many others would ask through history:

How does this happen to me?

How does this gift happen to any of us? How are we so blessed to receive God’s grace in our lives?

We can only wonder.

And wonder is the perfect sentiment for these last days of Advent. The Incarnation, God becoming man, is the most wonder-filled act in human history. At midnight tomorrow, we will sing of it, and in the middle of a dark winter night, we will all be ablaze with light, overflowing with music and joy.

And it is happening because of Mary—the other heroic woman in this scene. Mary, the unsuspecting, Mary the pure, Mary the trusting, Mary the determined. Mary, the one who had the courage to believe what was unbelievable, and in her believing undertook with this visit the great act that would be fulfilled in Bethlehem.

With her visit to Elizabeth, she brought Jesus into the world.

Pope Benedict has called the Visitation the “first Eucharistic procession”— Mary as living tabernacle, carrying Christ to Elizabeth for adoration.

But there is also something else at work here. With this visit Mary showed for the first time something so fundamental to our faith: we are meant to bring Christ to others. When Mary answered the angel’s call, she knew what she had to do. She had to share this, share him, with the world. That was her great vocation.

That, too, is ours. In fact, both these holy women are models for us.