The Visitation: The School of Mary begins

The Visitation: The School of Mary begins

The year before he died, Blessed spoke of the of as “a new breath of hope.” On 31 May 2004, at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Vatican Gardens, Blessed John Paul II said:

The month of May ends with the liturgical feast of the Visitation: the second joyful mystery which instils in hearts an ever new breath of hope. The meeting between Mary and Elizabeth is brought about by the Holy Spirit who fills the mothers with joy and causes the unborn prophet to leap in the womb. Then this year, we are celebrating the Visitation the day after Pentecost; this reminds us of the breath of the Spirit that impels Mary and with her, the Church, to take to the highways of the world to bring Christ, the hope of humanity, to everyone. 

The new breath of hope is the presence of Christ himself, the hope of all mankind. But it is through the Holy Spirit that Christ is communicated through Mary to Elizabeth. The painting by Rembrandt, the Visitation, is found the Detroit Institute of Art. I am struck by the reciprocity between the two women — the old Elizabeth and the young Mary, both of whom glow with the Holy Spirit of faith, hope and love. (If you visit the DIA website you can look at a close up of their faces. Visit here) They are a source of strength for each other. Yes, Christ inspires his cousin; ELizabeth blesses Mary in her adventure of faith. From a human perspective, one can see how the older Elizabeth is taking Mary under her wing, as a holy woman who will encourage and guide Mary as an expectant mother. Zechariah is almost out of the picture, but he is a man of much gravitas. Both Zechariah and Elizabeth will learn the way of faith from the young Mary. Thus John Paul II ends his short discourse on the Visitation with the exhortation: “Be faithful Gospel witness, learning every day at the school of Mary, the perfect disciple of her divine Son.” Blessed John Paul II “studied” every day at the school of Mary, through his consecration to Mary (Totus Tuus, St Louis de Montford), the daily recitation of the Rosary, and his very Marian attitudes and virtues. As De Montford taught, Mary is meek and strong, humble and courageous, pure and fruitful, and zealous and prudent. Can we not see these very qualities in the painting by Rembrandt? In her youthfulness Mary appears meek in front of the imposing matriarch, Elizabeth, but how strong Mary looks; humble in her appearance and manner, she exhibits such courage in her visitation; her purity and fruitfulness are palpable in the very being of the child whose presence inspires John; and her young and energetic zeal for the House of God matches that of the great zeal of Zachariah and Elizabeth, and it will outstrip that of anyone as she accompanies her son from Cana to the Calvary. The school of Mary holds forth in faith, and the mysteries of faith are pondered at each turn.

In the Rembrandt painting, Elizabeth could well be commending Mary for her faith; Elizabeth anticipates the very words of our Lord, when she said: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” Mary is commended by her son such-wise: “As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’”

Elizabeth learned at the school of Mary; the child Jesus learned at the school of Mary. Mary, Mother of the Church, continues to teach us many things. 

Blessed John Paul II prayed for us all as follows:  “May she herself obtain for you this gift from the Holy Spirit, the Teacher of our inmost being. I ask the Lord to grant this to you as I renew my affectionate greeting to you and cordially bless you all.”

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