Lately, I have been mulling over what is beyond the surface of life on earth. This reflection has taken me into the world of symbols and metaphors and double meanings. It started when I was preparing to give a retreat in Carmel, in mid-November. The readings for that Sunday were on the “end-time” and the need for us to prepare for it. This is a theme very appropriate for us as so many of our global brothers and sisters have died in the last two years – from Covid 19 and its variants. It got me thinking of my own end time. A quote from the late Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel spoke clearly to me:
“In every person’s life there are moments when there is a lifting of the veil at the horizon of the known, opening a sight of the eternal.”
Levels of our existence.
As I prepared for today’s Mass, I was struck by the multiple levels in the Gospel story of Mary and her cousin Elizabeth.
There is the surface level: Mary, a young woman and pregnant, hears that her older cousin is also pregnant. With a generous spirit, she embarks on a difficult journey across the hill country of Judea to Elizabeth’s home to help her and to share the joy both felt.
On another level we know that salvation history depends on these two holy women for each bears a miracle within her – John who will be the last of the prophets and Jesus who will bring salvation to the world.
In St. Luke’s account, the two women represent the two covenants: the Old Testament and the New. The central figures are their offspring: John and Jesus. Scripture scholar Roland Faley writes:
“The story is replete with theological significance (levels). As John leaps in his mother’s womb, the inferior recognizes the superior – Jesus. In addition, Elizabeth defers to Mary throughout the narrative. The one who has conceived at an advanced age is overshadowed by the one who has conceived without a human procreator.”
Elizabeth declares this to Mary in words we have heard and prayed so many times: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
She also praises Mary for her receptivity and commitment: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Words echoed in the Second Reading from the Book of Hebrews about the kind of person Jesus is: “Behold, I come to do your will, Father.”
As we contemplate the visitation, let us ask Mary and Elizabeth for the kind of openness to the Holy Spirit that they had. With the Psalmist, we pray:
“make us turn to you, O’Lord”
“let us see your face”
“take care of this vine” and
“give us new life” now and in the future. AMEN.
Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.
December 19, 2021