Blessed Among Women

[Continuing Advent reflections with an excerpt from my book, A Place Prepared by God.]

…This visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is extraordinary, and so has been immortalized in the pages of the word of God.  The first extraordinary thing we encounter is the voice of Mary.  Now the voice of a teenage girl is not something that one would expect to merit mention in the Holy Scriptures.  Carrying the Son of God within her, however, Mary could mediate the grace of the Holy Spirit simply with the sound of her voice.  When Elizabeth heard the voice of Mary, “the babe leapt in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Lk 1:41, 44).

Let us not pass this by without reflection: Mary simply greeted Elizabeth, and the result was that Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, as was the child in her womb (see Lk. 1:15).  This was just the beginning of twenty centuries (and counting) of wonders associated with Our Lady that proceed from the fact that the Incarnation of God happened within her.  As a result of Mary “greeting” me in the experience I recounted [in the beginning of the book], though I didn’t hear the sound of her voice, but only received her message, the grace of God rushed into me and dramatically changed my interior life.  She could have said no more than “Hello, Joseph” and I would have fallen into ecstasy, simply because at Mary’s voice the grace of the Holy Spirit is given.

Two things happened at the sound of Mary’s Spirit-filled voice, the first of which is little John leaping in the womb of his aged mother, who interpreted it as a leap of joy. The saints have always additionally interpreted it as his sanctification through his spontaneous response to the presence of Christ in the womb of Mary…

The second thing that happened at the sound of Mary’s voice was the filling of Elizabeth herself with the Holy Spirit.  Before we reflect at some length on the result of that little Pentecost of Elizabeth, there’s something else we ought to realize, since, as I said earlier, we do not explore these mysteries for mere historical value or academic interest.  Since this event is part of the word of God, it is living and active; it has enduring meaning for our own time as well as practical application to our own lives.  So if Elizabeth received joy and the grace of the Holy Spirit at the sound of Mary’s voice, we should realize that this is much more than a historical narrative.  For example, if Jesus healed people and cast out demons when He walked the earth, we have to be aware that what the Gospels offer is not a mere account of what happened then.  It is a testimony to who Jesus is, and hence his power to heal and to cast out demons continues to the end of time, for He is the Lord.  Similarly, Our Lady’s “voice” (that is, her presence, though in extraordinary circumstances chosen souls do hear her actual voice) continues to bring the grace of the Holy Spirit and joy to those to whom it is granted that she come to them, for she is the Mother of the Lord.

The first thing that Elizabeth said to Mary, once she was filled with the Holy Spirit, was: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”  Henceforth no one can have any valid reason for not praying the Hail Mary.  The first line—“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you”—came directly from Heaven, through the mouth of an archangel.  The next one—“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”—came directly from the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of a righteous woman He had just filled with Himself.  As for the rest of the prayer, the fact that Mary is holy is obvious from God’s choice of her for her mission, and we’ll see in greater detail in later chapters what it means that she is the Mother of God and prays for us sinners.  If angels and the Holy Spirit Himself can address her as they have, we have the highest of precedents for lovingly doing so ourselves.

Even if St. Luke hadn’t told us that Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit when she blessed Mary and the Fruit of her womb, we would have been compelled to come to the same conclusion ourselves.  How else would Elizabeth have known the extraordinary blessing Mary had just received?  How would she even have known that Mary was pregnant?  Obviously the communication wasn’t very swift in those days.  Mary didn’t hear the astonishing news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy until six months after the fact, and that news didn’t even come from Elizabeth, but from the angel.  So Elizabeth couldn’t have known what had happened to Mary in the past few days except by divine revelation.

The revelation is even more extraordinary than the awareness of Mary’s pregnancy. Elizabeth called Mary “the mother of my Lord”!  Mary herself was probably still coming to terms with the incredible significance of just Who it was that was now living in her womb, and when she goes to visit her cousin she is greeted with: “You are the mother of my Lord!”  Elizabeth’s humility is also evident, since she speaks to someone much younger than herself with such respect and deference.  “Why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  Behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leapt for joy.”  The very presence of Mary is a gift from God that brings joy and grace, of which Mary’s elder considers herself unworthy.

Blessings continued to flow from the mouth of Elizabeth, who was actually communicating the message of the Spirit to Mary: “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”  Blessed is she who believed.  This opens a window onto a fundamental element of the Gospel.  Elizabeth didn’t stop blessing Mary after she had first said, in effect, blessed are you who have this incredible bodily union with God Himself and who are thus wholly transfigured in the core of your being like no one else in the universe.  The evangelist included the blessing concerning faith because the rest of us can’t have the same sort of bodily connection with God that Mary did, but we can share her faith, and this is what all Christians are called to do…

About Father Joseph

I am a priest and monk currently serving with the Contemplatives of St Joseph in South San Francisco, CA. I am in my 33rd year of monastic life and in my 24th as a priest.

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