Zephaniah 3:14-18a; Colossians 3:12-17; Psalm 113: Luke 1:39-55
In many ways, I think, the Visitation is the most human of the feasts of the Church, The most human, homey and familiar. A young woman, Mary, has a disturbing, amazing and unprecedented encounter with the Divine and is miraculously pregnant, and the first thing she does is to run directly to an older kinswoman, Elizabeth, who has, herself, had a Divine encounter and is, if not miraculously, at least improbably pregnant at an advanced age. The meeting of these two women is itself an encounter with the Divine, the Holy Spirit causes John to leap in his mother’s womb, Elizabeth to proclaim Mary the Mother of the Lord, and Mary to pray the Magnificat. But it is also a very human encounter; a young woman going to an older relative for advice, comfort and fellow-feeling in their similar, but unique, circumstances. I am reminded of Taoiseach Ivan when he first returned to the faith in the late 70’s. The first person he went to see, riding his bicycle all the way from Oak Park to Rancho Cordova, was my mother, who happened to be in town because my sister Orrinda had just had her second child. He knew that she, being a person of deep faith, would understand, and that they would be able to share the wonder of what had happened.
We all do this, as children as youths and as adults; we want someone to “come and see”, look what I did, see what happened to me – wasn’t it great, or scary, or strange, or fun! We go to a family member, a friend, a neighbor or even a passing stranger, so great is our need to share with another human being something momentous. It is in this person to person contact that we share our faith, our encounters with the Divine. And while it is true that we will not always get the accepting and believing response that Mary got from Elizabeth, we still have to try.
In this season of Mission, we need to examine our encounters with other people; believers, non-believers, as well as those who fall into neither of those categories, those who are honestly, and not so honestly, lost. Do we share our “come and see” moments in a way that is approachable, non-judgmental and welcoming? Are we willing to listen, truly listen, to their stories and encounters without automatically deciding that they are in the wrong? St. Paul, in his letter to the Church at Colossae, wrote, “…clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” The old saw that says, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” is right, except for fruit flies, those are trapped with vinegar. Anyway, we are more likely to have a positive outcome if we are compassionate, kind, humble, meek and patient, than if we are hard-hearted, mean, dismissive, arrogant and denigrating. The people to whom we witness need to believe that their journey, their search, for truth is respected, that they, themselves, are respected and not taken lightly, even if we vehemently disagree with them. We need to remember when we didn’t believe, or believed differently, and how we would have wanted to be received, or how we were received and how we either resented, or welcomed it.
Every one of us is the face, hands, voice and heart of the Church presented to the world; the face, hands, voice and heart of Christ. The majority of the time people reject the Church, and our Faith, not because of a negative encounter with the Divine, but because of a negative encounter with a human being, who, to them, represents the Church and the Faith. We can’t always avoid this, often the person will not say anything, but go away and not come back and we never have a chance to explain, apologize or reconcile. But we can be mindful, attentive and prayerful about what we say and how we say it; as well as what we imply with our attitude, stance and response. Again from Colossians, “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…” If the people to whom we are witnessing know that we love them, not because we have said so, but because we have DONE so, and they can experience the peace that we have in our hearts in Christ, then we will have been an effective evangelist. In doing this we have proclaimed the Gospel, we have manifested the kingdom, we have been the Church, we have been Christ.
The passage from Colossians concludes with these words, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Everything we do, or say, is to be in the name of Jesus, and in everything we are to give thanks to the Father. It doesn’t say, “Give thanks when things go well”, or “Give thanks when you get what you want’, but, do everything in Jesus’ name and give thanks to the Father. What an incredible witness this would be to the world if we could live like this all the time. We can but try, not only for the benefit of those around us, but for ourselves. What a weight is lifted from our hearts when we live in thanksgiving, receiving everything in our lives as from a loving Father for our ultimate good. Auntie Leila posted a prayer a couple of weeks ago that I have adapted, slightly, for my own use: O Holy Spirit, Soul of my soul, enlighten, guide, strengthen and console me. Tell me what I ought to do and help me to do it. I promise to submit to everything you ask of me and to accept all that you allow to happen to me. Just show me what is your will.
When we can do this, we live a life of peace, order, wonder, faith and thanksgiving. And if that is our life, others will be drawn to us, will want to “come and see”, and we will be able to say, with Mary, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.”
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