The Visitation: A Lesson In How To Receive The Lord


By Carolyn Shields

We know that the Blessed Mother and Jesus were conceived and born without original sin, but oftentimes we forget (or heck, never learned) that one other person was born without original sin as well…if you know your liturgical calendar (and I sure don’t), he’s the only other birthday we celebrate during the year.

A big hint was in this week’s Gospel. Ok, bigger: he’s the only other baby in the Visitation.

When John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb at the arrival of Jesus, tradition holds that Jesus cleansed John of sin. And this act, which was probably more than a kick and maybe less of a somersault (which I’ve always weirdly pictured it being), hit a chord with me today.

The Joyful mysteries are beautiful, but if we think about it, many of them are kind of anxiety producing. Especially if you pray lectio divina with them. Do you really want to immerse yourself in a moment before an angel delivering life changing news like in the Annunciation? How frightening! Or sweating bullets with Joseph because holy freaking cow, Mary is in labor and we can’t find a bed, like in the Birth of Jesus. But the Visitation is pure joy, and we know this not only because of Elizabeth’s greeting but because of John’s reaction.

It’s notable how Mary and Jesus came to Elizabeth and John, and not the other way around. So take a second and ask yourself: when Christ comes to you, what is your reaction? How do you greet Him? How do you respond? Before you answer, remember we’re not just talking about how we feel, but the attitude of our hearts.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer can kind of be…uncomfortable. For me, I’m definitely not on that ‘leaping for joy level’ every time I encounter Christ in the Eucharist. Why? I think there’s a few reasons.

First, consider what it’s like seeing your mother every day. It’s nice, right? You say good morning to her and go on your day. But what if you see her only once a year? Wouldn’t you swallow her up in the world’s biggest hug?

So what happens when this is applied to our faith? I’m lucky enough to attend daily Mass once or twice a week, but laity attending daily Mass is actually a new-ish thing. Someone can definitely correct me on this, but as late as the 1920s laity had to ask special permission to receive daily communion. Pier Giorgio Frassati for example had to ask to attend daily Mass, though the role of the laity in the Church is having a moment this century. And daily Mass aside, how can we keep our hearts ready to constantly leap with joy when we encounter Christ every day in various ways?

Our culture’s tendency to saturate and overindulge and binge dulls our senses. Addictions to pornography contorts our ability to see the beauty of the person. Addictions to instagram and overexposure to advertisements and images (even beautiful ones!) can take away our awe and wonder.

Every idea of Him we form, He must in mercy shatter. The most blessed result of prayer would be to rise thinking, ‘But I never knew before. I never dreamed…’
— C.S Lewis

Obviously an overexposure isn’t a bad thing with the faith, but can daily Mass, a rigid prayer routine, or monotonous Sundays numb our hearts? Does the devil pray on this lukewarmness? Is this when God comes to shake things up in us? When we begin to fail to recognize Him?

Maybe. But here’s the thing…John is John. Elizabeth is Elizabeth. Mary is Mary. And you are you. Even in scripture, we can’t compare ourselves or measure ourselves to other people, even really good and holy ones. Yes, use them as an example, strive to mirror their actions and echo their words. But when it comes to receiving our Holy, there’s no one perfect response, you know? Consider the context. Consider the person.

If we aren’t leaping with joy at every Mass, that’s okay. If we don’t feel a certain way, that’s even more okay. Welcome Him gently and reverently, welcome Him with open arms, welcome Him inch by inch, or welcome Him as John did.

Because remember, He’s coming to you, and His presence goes much deeper than what we might feel on the surface.