AS IF (On the Visitation)

This homily was delivered on the Feast of the Visitation 2013 on Luke 1:39-56.

When I first learned to pray the Rosary, I thought the Visitation was no more than that minor second Joyful mystery sandwiched between the two big ones: the Annunciation and the Nativity. But the older I got, and the more I’ve prayed and reflected on the Visitation story, the more I’ve realized that it has a significance and beauty all its own. This morning I read the Gospel passage and noticed a few things.

First, two pregnant women meet. One, Mary, suddenly with child perhaps even before she has even wished for one, and Elizabeth, just as unexpectedly with child, certainly long after she’s given up all hopes on being a mother..

Second, it’s not Les Miz, but in this scene we have a virtual song-and-dance number. The baby in Elizabeth’s womb, the future John the Baptist, hears the greeting of Mary, and leaps with joy and does a mean boogie. But wait, how can a baby dance even before it has learned to walk?

That’s not all: For her part, Mary, upon hearing Elizabeth’s greeting breaks into song, the magnificent Magnificat. But if you’re a grammar cop like me and you examine the song line by line, you realize that the tenses are all wrong. The song is about what God will do in the future, yet the tenses are all consistently in the perfect tense as though all the events predicted here have already transpired, and all God’s promises already fulfilled.

So what’s really going on here? All the timing in this scene seems all wrong: Not only do we have the cousins Mary and Elizabeth finding themselves pregnant at not exactly the most ideal time of their lives, but we also have a baby in the womb dancing prematurely, and Mary singing and celebrating about things that haven’t yet happened.

I think we can learn a couple of things here: First, the story of the Visitation invites us to insert ourselves into God’s time, and leave our own. When it comes to God’s time, there is no such thing as bad timing. In a word, kairos. All things will come to pass in the fullness of God’s time. And so the Visitation offers us a set of twin graces: on the one hand, patience, and on the other, a longer vision that will enable us to wait and to hope, that in time—in God’s time—some light will be shed in our darkness, some solution will present itself to our problem, and some healing will come to our woundedness.

Second message: Mary shows us that waiting in God’s time isn’t a passive kind of waiting. It is a waiting in faith and hope. Note how she in her song revises her thoughts—imagining things belonging to the future as if they were already present—and in doing so hopes to inspire hope in herself and in us and prompt a behavior guided by faith. In other words, Mary shows us how to “fake it till you make it,” to act as if things already are because the graces will follow and the promises will be fulfilled.

The Visitation invites us to wait with our eyes set on God’s timetable, not ours, and Mary teaches us to wait actively with hope and faith.

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