Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
It says a lot about Mary that her first act after learning that she was to be the mother of the Messiah was one of service to another. Hearing from the angel Gabriel that her cousin, Elizabeth, who was older and thought to be barren, was pregnant, Mary went to her to serve her in her time of need. Pregnancy is never an easy time for a woman, and we moderns who enjoy very low maternal mortality rates, forget that pregnancy could also be a dangerous time for women until only very recently. Women had tremendous responsibilities in the running of a household, just as they do today. Those didn’t always lessen when one became pregnant, just as they do not today. Knowing she would need an extra hand, Mary didn’t hesitate to go to her cousin to help.
The Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist on June 24, six months before Christmas. I can’t confirm it, but I’ve read that one of the theories of why the birth of Jesus is celebrated on December 25 is that the Christians first began celebrating the Feast of the Birth of the Baptist in June, so it made sense to set the date for Jesus’ birth six months later. John the Baptist and Jesus are forever linked, both by blood and by their related missions in announcing, for John, the coming of the Messiah and, for Jesus, the arrival of the kingdom of God.
As today’s Scripture attests, John first announced the coming of the Messiah while still in his mother’s womb. Upon hearing Mary’s greeting, John himself leaped for joy to know that his Messiah was so nearby. Elizabeth felt her son leap, and this filled her with joy. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, she too announced the coming of the Messiah by recognizing Mary as “the mother of my Lord.” It is Elizabeth’s greeting that became the words of the Ave, the most recited prayer of the Church: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”
But it is Elizabeth’s blessing that provides the lesson for us disciples of Mary’s Son today: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” This is what made Mary Jesus’ first disciple, and His most faithful. The word of the Lord came to her, and she believed. She didn’t hesitate, though she sought understanding, to give her “yes,” her fiat, when approached by Gabriel with her unique and unimaginable mission of conceiving in her womb, carrying to birth, and then raising the Messiah! The modern quip, “It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it!” comes to mind, only as infinite understatement! How could this young girl, a teenager really, manage to take upon her shoulders what, to that point, would prove the most daunting and important task God had given anyone, surpassing that of Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, and all the prophets. Only her own Son’s mission would supersede hers, and He is God! Is it any wonder that God prepared her by way of the Immaculate Conception, ensuring from the first moment of her existence that she would be “full of grace”? Is it any wonder that generations of disciples since have raised her, this first disciple, in their hearts, minds and devotions to a place of honor second only to her Son’s?
Today is a day to contemplate the example of Mary, our Blessed Mother, in giving herself totally to the Father and the Holy Spirit for the sake of the Son. It is a day to contemplate her example of service to others in their need, even when she had just taken on the greatest responsibility ever given by God to a human being. It is a day to contemplate how we can follow her example in not hesitating to believe that all that the Lord has spoken to us will be fulfilled, and to act on that in confidence.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the moment of our death. Amen.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.