Monday, May 31, 2010

Note On the Visitation

"The reason for the observance of the festival of the Visitation in the tradition and prayer books of catholic churches is not merely sentimental nor even primarily devotional. The Visitation is an important part of the story of the Incarnation and, as such, is significant to the gospel itself. A little reflection shows why this is so.

Reading the Gospel [Luke 1:39-57] for the Visitation, we are inclined to pass over the words, 'And the babe leaped within her', as a quaint but somewhat 'intimate' touch of realism. Modern obstetricians give us a helpful hint toward the understanding of this passage when they tell us that it is a very joyful experience when an expectant mother first feels the movement of the child within her, for by this token she realizes that this growth within her is truly alive -- that it is is not only a part of her life, but that it has a life of its own.

Add to this idea the beautiful explanation which Elizabeth, herself, makes of the experience. To her the stirring of the babe in the womb is not only a sign of life for one child; it is is a sign of new life for all mankind, a prophecy of the imminent Incarnation of the Word through which all men might be born again. To Elizabeth this natural occurrence had a supernatural meaning.

And then, think of John, the Baptist, yet unborn, but already witnessing to the Savior, already fulfilling the will of God. If the blessed forerunner of our Lord had died at birth, the Redeemer would still not have been unexpected or without his prophet, so wonderful was the witness of this unborn child. In all of his years of life on earth, which included his incomparable preaching and glorious martyrdom, blessed John never went beyond this moment, was never more the instrument of the Holy Spirit than when as a babe he leaped in the womb of his mother, for in that moment he became what he had been created to be and fulfilled his destiny.

One more related thought -- even though St. John the Baptist lived for many years, this event points toward the understanding of a great mystery in showing us that in the mystery of God even an unborn child may have fulfilled its destiny and thus be taken by God before it has seen the light of day. People will always be brokenhearted at the death of a baby, but they may find comfort if they look beyond this tragedy of nature to the realm of supernature in which even an unborn child may have had a deeper experience of God than an adult. St. John in the womb and old Simeon could not have been farther apart in age -- nor closer in their knowledge of the presence in the world of the Incarnate God. Thus we have in the words of Elizabeth not an embarrassing intimacy that she was too quaint to conceal, but a beautiful insight into truth, a part of a great gospel. We see why the Visitation has been celebrated in the church for well over a thousand years.

(The Rev. William H. Baar, in The Living Church, May 25, 1986) 

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