Monday, 22 January 2018

The Visitation (3)

The Visitation (3)

When Our Lady came to St Elizabeth, the latter exclaimed, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”

We can see in St Elizabeth’s words the beginnings of the Hail Mary. Sometimes we are accused of making too much of Our Lady, of putting her in the place of God, or even of worshipping her, but there is nothing further from the truth. All we do is follow the example of what holy men and women have done through the ages, starting with St Elizabeth. When she says that Our Lady is ‘blessed’, then we might think of the Beatitutes (blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are those who mourn etc.) and if we can all be blessed, then Our Lady is no different. But this is not the case at all, because the word that the Bible uses in these two places is different. We make the connection because we have used the same word (‘blessed’) to translate two different Greek terms. The beatitudes says makarios (μακαρίος), while the Visitation uses eulogetos (ʾευλογητος). So when St Elizabeth says that Our Lady is ‘Blessed’ it points to the One in her womb, rather than to us. 

Also eulogetos (the ‘blessed’ of the Visitation) has the sense of being well spoken of’ or being praised’. We praise Our Lady because she is worthy of it, and we know that it true, because St Elizabeth tells us.

So, when Elizabeth says this, she connects Our Lady with her Son in a most intimate way, and says that we must praise Our Lady in the same kind of way that we praise her Son. She is Blessed, or to be praised, because she said yes to the angel, and as a result she has Jesus within her: the author of all life. In the way that we praise Him, so should we praise her too.

How then could it be that we could praise the Virgin too much? St Elizabeth tells us that she is Blessed, and we know and act accordingly. Know that when you say your Hail Marys you are putting our Lady in the same camp as her Son - worthy of praise and Blessed indeed!


This originally appeared on the back of the bulletin of the Shrine of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury, and St Michael Shepton Mallet

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Doctor... nearly!

I am so pleased to say that I had my viva examination in Durham this week, and that after rigorous and taxing questioning, thumb screws and all,

I have passed my PhD!

I have to make minor corrections (so not a doctor yet), and then have to graduate (in the summer, so really not a doctor yet), and then, I shall be able to respond to the question in the theatre that I have waited for all my life...

"Is there a doctor in the house?"
"Yes, but only if you want to discuss Vatican documents relating to the Jews."


Friday, 19 January 2018

The Visitation (2)

The Visitation (2)

We left the Visitation at the moment when Our Lady and St Elizabeth greeted each other. This whole episode is rich in meaning, but let us just concentrate on the bare bones.

The first thing to say is that this is just so in keeping with the personality of the Virgin Mary. Never having been pregnant myself, I have no idea if a long journey, while pregnant, in the heat, not in a comfortable car, is something I would jump at… but Our Lady knew that her cousin needed her, and so she went. We know that Elizabeth was of a certain age, and no matter what her own personal circumstances (Angel, Father of the child being God, St Joseph being wobbly), Our Lady simply saw someone in need and thought of Elizabeth, before she thought of herself. Perhaps this is one of the results of being conceived without the stain of Original Sin, that she responded to the needs of others before thinking of herself. Now there is definitely a lesson in there for us.

But the meeting of the Visitation was much more than the two women, because there were four people present - St John the Baptist was in the womb of St Elizabeth, and Our Saviour in the womb of His most holy Mother. When they met, the child in St Elizabeth’s womb ‘leapt for joy’. Before his birth, John recognised his creator and Saviour. Indeed perhaps it was because he had not yet been born that it was easier for him to recognise the divine. This world can dazzle us so much that our eyes become distracted and our heads befuddled. But in the womb, St John saw’ much more clearly than many would even in the flesh.

Is it then any surprise that St John became a wild man, living in the desert, eating honey and dressed in animal hides, preaching a message of repentance and the closeness of the Kingdom of God? What attractions has the world, and what can it put forward as important, when you have known the presence of God Himself before your earliest memory? John had experienced God in the womb of Our Lady, and there was nothing, and there could be nothing, more important that that. How his heart must have leapt for joy again on that day by the waterside when John pointed his finger at his cousin and said, “Behold the Lamb of God, Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.”


This originally appeared on the back of the bulletin of the Shrine of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury, and St Michael Shepton Mallet

Sunday, 7 January 2018

The Visitation (1)

The Visitation (1)

The Gospel of St Luke (1.39-56) tells us about the visit that Our Lady made to her cousin St Elizabeth. Elizabeth, you will remember, was miraculously pregnant with St John the Baptist. We are told that she was ‘well on in years’, and, in one of the most wonderful phrases in the Bible, that ‘her days of girlhood were over’! She and her husband Zechariah wanted a child, but they were unable to conceive. When Zechariah was serving in the Temple, the archangel Gabriel appeared to him, announced that Elizabeth was pregnant, that the child was going to be called John, and that he would be ’filled with the Holy Spirit’, even before his birth.

And to think that all Zechariah had wanted to do was a spot of sacrificing in the Temple!

We know that Zechariah was struck dumb until he confirmed that the child’s name was to be John, and we next pick up the story of what Elizabeth, Zechariah and bump (filled with the Holy Spirit bump), were up to when Our Lady went to visit her kinswoman.

By now, the Archangel Gabriel had been busy, and had also been to see the Blessed Virgin, and after the action of the Holy Spirit, Our Lady too was pregnant. By the time of the Visitation St Elizabeth is six months gone and as Our Lady stays with her for three months, she must have stayed for the birth itself. Elizabeth and Zechariah lived in Hebron, which was quite some distance away, and this must have been quite a thing for Our Lady to do. After all, it is not as if Our Lady’s life had been exactly quiet. After the annunciation, word had got round that she was pregnant, and we are even told that Joseph, an honourable man, was going to spare her from more gossip by not going forward with the marriage. Then ’an angel of the Lord’ appeared to St Joseph in a dream and the marriage was back on. OK, so we don’t know who this ‘angel of the Lord’ was, but I’d put a crisp £5 note that it was Gabriel again - that Archangel gets around!

So after all that, Our Lady sets out on a journey to visit Elizabeth. It may have just been kindness, and an outpouring of charitable love, but God had great plans for this meeting between the two women. Great plans indeed!


This originally was on the Back of the Bulletin of the Shrine of Our Lady St Mary of Glastonbury, and St Michael Shepton Mallet

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