(Another guest post today, from Susan Grunder. We actually celebrated the Visitation yesterday, not today, but I did not get to post this on time. Late? This message is always. timely, and we are grateful for the way Susan has shared it with us.)
Today we celebrated the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. How I love to hear the Magnificat proclaimed! As a grown woman, Mary’s song of liberation, empowerment and grace never fails to move me. I don’t recall ever hearing it as a child. The Magnificat is not part of the Rosary or the Angelus. It is a part of the liturgy of the hours, which pretty much guaranteed me not hearing it as a child. And that, I think, is ok. I think I needed more maturity to be able to connect with the power of this prayer of thanksgiving and liberation. I came to appreciate the Magnificat in graduate school, both as part of prayer and as part of study. Today, I heard it proclaimed at the 9:00 Mass.
And it was beautiful. And powerful. And challenging.
Today I also attended the funeral of an amazing woman who was a mentor to me in many ways. She was an empowered lay woman in the church, a long time DRE and Spiritual Director, who shared freely the graces she was given and who had an amazing gift for storytelling and listening. Mary Lou was able to share the workings of God’s grace in her own life and help others identify grace in their own. She held so firmly to the belief that her ministry in Faith Formation stemmed from her baptism that she kept a framed copy of her Baptismal Certificate on her office wall rather than a copy of her diploma for her MA in Religious Education. I came to know her by being invited to participate a regular meeting of fellow faith formation professionals who were older and wiser than me. Those ladies encouraged and supported me as I worked on figuring out all of the responsibilities, joys, and challenges of working for a parish. That the celebration of Mary Lou’s life occurred on the Visitation seemed so appropriate. She was beautiful. And powerful. And challenging.
In contemplating the confluence of the Visitation and Mary Lou’s funeral, I realized that there was a key element to the proclamation of the Magnificat I had never noticed before. Luke doesn’t tell us why Mary goes to visit Elizabeth—only that she sets out and travels “in haste.” I always like to think that she is going to seek the advice of an older, wiser woman.
What we do know is that Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, calls out to Mary. She identifies Mary as “blessed among women….the mother of my Lord.” The Magnificat is Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s Spirit-filled call and identification. In Mary’s song of praise and empowerment, we hear the work of the Spirit–I get that. Prior to today, however, I missed the fact that her song of praise doesn’t come at the moment of the Annunciation, surely a Spirit filled moment. Rather, Mary sings out when she finds herself in the company of another woman, Elizabeth. Elizabeth is the touchstone that open’s Mary’s lips for proclamation and her spirit for rejoicing. It is through the companionship of a fellow woman that Mary can recognize and share the grace of the Spirit within her.
In some ways, the companionship Mary found with Elizabeth parallels or, more appropriately, models, the companionship I found with Mary Lou and many other amazing women of the church. I was looking for advice and wisdom. I found both, as well as nourishment for my soul. My ministry in the church grew apace with my recognition of the action of the Spirit in my life, a recognition enabled and nurtured through the communion and fellowship of some amazing, spirit-filled women.
We are fast approaching the feast of Pentecost, when our church celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and the beginning of the church. Looking at the Visitation, perhaps that should be recognized as a beginning of the church. Surely the sharing of the Holy Spirit by these Holy Women is an ecclesial moment!