TODAY’S Gospel narrates Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, the Visitation in the Rosary’s Joyful Mysteries. It introduces two major personas of Advent and Christmas, especially in our simbang gabi tradition: the Blessed Mother and John the Baptist.
The focal points are John recognizing Christ’s presence when John leaps in his mother Elizabeth’s womb, and—though not in today’s Gospel—the Magnificat. Here we see one fundamental grace of our Christian faith and life: From the beginning we are blessed with meaning and mission, with purpose in life.
Mary’s Magnificat we will hear in the Mass for Tuesday, the seventh day of the simbang gabi Masses, then we end the novena with the Gospels on the birth of John the Baptist and climax with the Canticle of Zechariah.
In the Magnificat, we see one beautiful and eloquent expression of Mary’s mission: to proclaim, to rejoice and to be blessed with mission because of God’s graciousness.
The infant John the Baptist shows he is the precursor of Christ. By leaping in Elizabeth’s womb he points to the presence of Christ. With this mission, he leads others to Christ. As his own mother proclaims, “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.” Elizabeth recognizes Christ as the savior, her savior.
Mary and John are icons of fidelity to and integrity of mission. One key grace is what is commonly called discernment. We often hear this term both in a spiritual and secular context.
In the Ignatian sense, which is probably the most popular formal concept of spiritual discernment, it is the discernment of spirits, identifying the movements of God’s spirit and choosing accordingly. It is also communal discernment and a discernment for mission.
In today’s Gospel, discernment is framed as recognizing the time of our visitation. Just as John recognizes the visitation of Christ, Elizabeth does so through John. These are simple yet deep and dramatic recognition of the times of their visitations that would forever serve as prototypes for all generations.
Contrast this to the failure of recognition as expressed by Christ when he weeps over Jerusalem.
As Luke describes it, “As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If this day you only knew what makes for peace but now it is hidden from your eyes. For the days are coming upon you when your enemies will raise a palisade against you; they will encircle you and hem you in on all sides. They will smash you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another within you because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19: 41-44)
As we come to the final days of preparations for Christmas, the season of remembering the Birth of our Savior, we pray that we recognize the times of our visitations.
The other way of seeing this —using another Ignatian term and grace—is to be able to find God in all things.
In the festivities of the coming days, we pray we will find the reason for it all, to celebrate the God who is with us.
Amidst all the merriment, we pray we will feel the deep joy of Christ’s coming and the promise to come again.
In all the traditions and practices of Christmas, we can find God. We can recognize once more the times of our visitations.