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December 23, 2018
[Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, Ewa Beach; St. Joseph Church, Waipahu; St. Roch Church, Kahuku]
The day I reported to my first parish after being ordained a priest, the pastor wanted to introduce me to some parishioners. We got in his car, and for the next two hours we must have visited a dozen homes. We went in, the pastor introduced me, we exchanged some small talk, and we were on our way to the next house. When I arrived home, I thought to myself that this was no way to visit people, just running in and out and not spending time with them. I soon learned that this was something the pastor did regularly, not just when introducing a new associate. And I also discovered that, despite my preference for quantity of time spent at each place, people really appreciated the pastor’s visits, because he took the time to go into their homes and to be on their “turfs.” Even if these visits were extremely brief, it meant a great deal to them that he cared enough to go to them in their own homes. This was a valuable lesson I learned as a young priest.
Today’s Gospel was about the Visitation of Mary to her relative Elizabeth. She who was the Mother of God, even though pregnant herself, was moved to go on a journey of 80 to 100 miles to visit this old woman who thought she was well past the age of childbearing. She could have just sent her prayers or a message of good wishes, but she knew that her presence would be much more appreciated. And when she arrived, Elizabeth already knew that Mary was pregnant with the Lord himself. This was, of course, before texting or the internet, so how did she know? She must have just intuited that the presence of the Lord, whom her son had been designated to precede, was right there with her, because she greeted Mary as the “mother of my Lord.” There was a joy in Mary that even John sensed in the womb of his mother, and he leaped for joy.
We, too, are called to go out to others, and today’s Gospel challenges us to do that. We Catholics, I must admit, are not always good about going out with the Gospel. Our parishes have many wonderful programs. We have beautiful music, Scripture studies, parochial schools, religious education programs, programs for Seniors, and many others – if people come to us. But we usually do not go out to them. Yet Jesus gave us the mission to “Go” and share the good news with others. Sometimes we are hesitant to go because we do not feel we have anything to offer. We may feel we need a greater knowledge of the Scriptures or of theology. Or we feel we would be imposing on someone. Yet if we go out with the joy of Jesus within us, people will sense that joy and welcome us. It may be a short visit, such as the ones my first pastor did; or it may be over a longer period of time; but we can make a huge difference in people’s lives if we take the love of the Lord out to them where they are. They may have even lost hope that they could ever be close to God, as Elizabeth lost hope for a time that she would ever be a mother. Yet if we go out to them, we can bring them that hope and help them see that God can fulfill all our hopes in his own time.
Just as the presence of the Lord, hidden in the womb of the Blessed Mother, brought joy to Elizabeth and to her son John while he was still in her womb, the same Lord Jesus allows himself to be in us, as we eat his Body and drink his Blood. It is not ourselves that we take to others, but Jesus, who lives within us, and his presence in us is what they will sense, so that they will be filled with joy.
As we reflect on the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her relative Elizabeth, and on our own mission to go out to others, we prepare to celebrate the greatest visitation of all. The God in heaven, to whom people would offer sacrifice, now took on a body to visit us, to live with us, to be on our turf. It is this great visitation that brings us the greatest joy and enables us to bring the joy of Christ to the whole world.