These past months, we have watched the saints through the lens of the sacraments, gradually getting to know these exemplars of faith, these icons of living a Christ-ian life, with an eye to what they teach us about the 7 sacraments. However, for the summer, we will no longer have an overarching theme for each month (until September when we will make it to the third pillar of the Catechism: our life in Christ). It took me a bit of brainstorming to find some aspect of our faith not covered in the Catechism, but after some thinking on it I would like to take these summer months to examine the lives of the saints each week interwoven with scripture. Of course, scripture comes up all the time in the Catechism, and we’ll find ourselves especially digging into praying with scripture in year 4 (so after next year), but it does not examine particular passages of scripture, which is what I want to do during these essays over the summer, but, as always, taking the saints as our guides in that endeavor!
For this first week, we remain with our Mother Mary. The feast of the visitation happens each year on May 31st, as we conclude the Marian month, and our scripture passage then is an obvious one:
In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah,and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “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 child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”[Luke 1:39-45]
Much of what we might learn from this passage begins with the lovely detail Luke mentions of John’s leaping within Elizabeth’s womb. From many centuries before, we find the story of Jacob and Esau’s squirming within their mother Rebekah told with the same words. Bringing her own pregnancy into her conversation with God, the Old Testament matriarch heard these alarming words: “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you, shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.” [Genesis 25:23] How different is the cavorting of John! When Jacob reached maturity, he would make off with Esau’s birthright and blessing, whereas John would boldly, and humbly, proclaim, “He must increase, but I must decrease” [John 3:30].
Yet if John’s reverence and delight at the coming of Christ offer us an inspiration for our own approaching before the Lord, perhaps another Old Testament character sheds further light on the scene. We now fast-forward several more centuries and find ourselves watching David as he finally brings the Ark of the Covenant, the throne and promise of God’s presence, into his capital city, Jerusalem. He asks, standing in the same hill country of Judea outside of Jerusalem, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me?”[2 Samuel 6:9], words that would be echoed by Elizabeth’s “what is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” [Luke 1:43]. “And David”, like John, “danced before the Lord with all his might”, but more than that, “David was belted with a linen ephod” [2 Samuel 6:14]. David, robed like a priest, dances as his Lord comes to him; John, the son of a priest, does the same.
But there is more. (When it comes to the Bible, there is always more!) Elizabeth praises Mary “blessed are you among women”, as we do in every Hail Mary, and these words too come from the heritage of Israel. Judith is praised in like manor after saving the Israelites from the Assyrian attacker, Holofernes – “O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all women on earth” [Judith 13:18] as was Jael, even further back in Israelite lore, when she assassinated the Canaanite general, Sisera – “Most blessed of women be Jael.” [Judges 5:24] Now, I can’t leave us standing by Judith holding Holofernes head and Jael showing the dead body of Sisera to the beleaguered Israelites! We see here, in even stronger words than before, Mary’s role in which she untwists the broken history of Israel. Just as the leaping of John now shows delight and humility (rather than the deception of Jacob), and just as his celebration is without ulterior motive (unlike David’s brining the Ark into his city), so the high praises of Mary, come not from her conniving in order to save the nation, but her willingness to allow God to fight the true enemies of Israel with His own invasion.
– Fr. Dominic Rankin reads the Bible every day. And every day the Holy Spirit takes him down an unexpected road that always carries him one step closer to God.