Thursday May 31, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Feast of the Visitation
Reading (Zeph 3:14-18a) Gospel (St. Luke 1:39-56)
In the first reading from the prophet Zephaniah, God is telling the people of Israel, and the people of Jerusalem, that they are to rejoice because God is in their midst. Of course we understand that God is in our midst as well. He is in our midst in a general way: the fact that He is present among His people always, that He holds us in being, and so on. But in the fulfillment of this prophecy, in a way that the people could barely understand even though they had all of the various prophecies and they knew that the Messiah had to be born in Bethlehem, and so on, they knew that He was going to be present in a physical way. This was something they did not really understand fully, and quite frankly it is something that we cannot ever fully understand either. How can God be man and be present physically among us? It is the Incarnation of Christ, and it is something that for all eternity we will never understand fully, because it deals specifically with the Divinity. It is a mystery that is beyond us, and yet it is a mystery into which each one of us is invited.
The great and holy One of Israel is in our midst, as we prayed in the Responsorial Psalm. What exactly does that mean for us? It means that salvation has come. That is what Elizabeth understood. She saw the great gift that God had given to her that she would be able, in her sixties at this point, to conceive a child. And yet when our Lady comes to rejoice with her, and to be with her, and help her, Elizabeth says, "Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" It was something else that was happening. Mary did not say a word about what was happening with her. She simply greeted Elizabeth. We can see the grace of God at work as the two children in the womb are communicating, and as the two mothers are communicating. God somehow infuses the knowledge into Elizabeth's mind, that within the womb of our Blessed Lady is God Himself. St. John the Baptist understood it and he leaps with joy in his mother's womb. At this point original sin is removed from St. John the Baptist's soul, so that he is born without original sin. Conceived with sin, but born without it because this was the moment that he had been purified that he was sanctified by the Visitation of our Lady and our Lord.
We see that what our Lady does is she goes up to Jerusalem exactly along the same path that the Ark of the Covenant went up to Jerusalem, carrying within her own self the covenant, the new and eternal covenant. There are lots of different things that one can see as we consider this mystery of what is going on the Visitation. But I think what we also need to consider is the great charity of our Blessed Lady. To think that God has just given to her the greatest gift that anybody could ever imagine, and the first thing that she does is to go and help somebody else. Rather than trying to draw any kind of attention to herself, rather than even sitting back praying and pondering the mystery that is taking place in her own womb, immediately her focus is on others. So too it is for us when we receive our Lord in Holy Communion. When we have Jesus within ourselves, and as we meditate upon the mystery of the Lord present within our souls, He by nature is going to turn our focus to charity, to pray for, to think about and to serve others.
As we consider this mystery of the Visitation, this great Feast, and all of the different communications and the Grace that is present between these two women, between the two babies, then we need to bring it back to ourselves and ask how does this affect me? It affects us because it sets the model for us. The Lord is indeed present in our midst and He is present in our souls. When we receive Holy Communion, for a half an hour or so, He is present in our bodies, and then we can ask ourselves, is my reaction the same as our Lady's? Is my reaction the same as Elizabeth's? Who am I that the Lord should come to me? When our Lord came to our Lady her first reaction was charity. The first words out of her mouth were to praise God. What about us? When we receive our Lord day after day in Holy Communion, that should lead us to charity, and it should lead us to praise God, to a greater love of God and a greater love of neighbor. That is what we see in this Feast; and that is what should be seen in our lives as well, to be able to glorify God. We need to be able to recognize that He is present in our midst. We need to give Him the glory and the magnification of our soul, for the One who is within our soul, for the One who wants to shine out from within us, that is what we can understand in this for ourselves. It is a model for us so that we can imitate the charity of our Lady, and the great love that Jesus has for us, and then we can share that love with others by showing them the great love He has for them as well.
Note: Father Altier does not prepare his homilies in advance, but relies solely upon the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.