On this Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary I'd like to share something that I wrote several years ago when I began reflecting on all the ways that my mom, Mary Helen Bender Bradney, has sacrificed and offered herself to me and my siblings over the years. At ninety-one mom still lives at home and continues to "gift" us with her beautiful presence of love.*
Have you ever received an unexpected gift so precious that it took your breath away? It happened to me the summer I turned 14. After spending some time with relatives I returned home to discover that my mom, Mary Helen, had made curtains for my bedroom! Perhaps not so spectacular a gift to some, but the only time that my mom had to work on these curtains was after she put all my younger siblings to bed; staying up late, night after night, crafting my curtains on an old treadle machine. The gift of those curtains was very dear to me, but far beyond the material gift was my mom’s sacrificial gift of love and presence.
Another Mary demonstrated this sacrificial love gift over 2000 years ago, a gift that we acknowledge and celebrate in the second Joyful Mystery of the Rosary—The Visitation. God had just given Mary, and all of us, the greatest of all gifts in the Incarnation, yet instead of keeping to herself and pondering this Mystery, Mary’s attention immediately focused on someone else. After discovering that not only was she pregnant with the Messiah, but also that her aging cousin Elizabeth was pregnant, Mary set off on an arduous, four day journey across the desert in order to make herself available to her cousin.
Immediately upon Mary’s arrival, Elizabeth’s babe, John the Baptist, leapt for joy as he recognized the true gift that Mary was bringing to their home—the gift of Christ within her. This gift was so totally unexpected and overwhelming that Elizabeth cried out and greeted her with two blessings—the first on Mary herself, followed by a blessing on her child Jesus—“Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” Elizabeth was so overwhelmed that she exclaimed “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”(Luke 1:41-43) Somehow she knew, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that Mary was bringing more than her physical presence to her home; there was more to this gift than what might meet the eye.
This is no ordinary visit between relatives, but an encounter between two people who have been graced by God in different yet similar ways as they enter into the fulfillment of ancient Scripture—Mary brought the Word made flesh to Elizabeth, who in turn was carrying within her the herald of this same Word, John. In a sense, they gifted one another as they acknowledged that not only was God present in their midst, but was also the source of their gift.
We too are called to be gift to one another—to bring Jesus the Christ to others—not just to those we already know and love, but also to the community that does not immediately recognize Him as did John and Elizabeth. Just as Mary gave of herself so that her gift could grow and flourish and be made concrete to others, so too are we invited to share the Christ within us. It might mean smiling at a frustrated salesclerk, being patient with a slow wait staff, listening without judgment to someone who needs to be heard, or even being inconvenienced and losing sleep in order to offer an unexpected gift. Might God be inviting you to offer yourself as gift to someone who least expects it?
*This article first appeared in the AR Catholic, the weekly newspaper of the Diocese of Little Rock.