Who Visits in the Visitation
We see obliquely through the excite the yet unborn John in the womb of Elizabeth. This is in a sense the first time they meet and will not encounter each other again until around the time of Jesus’ Baptism.
There are many powerful messages in this one of the first is that John jumps for joy at the encounter with the presence of Christ. Mary was often called Theotokos which means God-bearer and here Mary is bringing the tabernacle that brings the presence of her son in the Womb. She becomes the forebearer for the same tabernacle in every Catholic church in the world.
However, notice something else and this is an important aspect of our faith.
St. John in his first letter reminds us that it is not that we love God but that he loves us first. (1John 4:10)
Here we see not only the excitement of John the Baptist but also that he reflects that it is God who reaches out to us so that we may be saved.
Always remember that it is God who initiates and we respond. So, God is always calling us first and leading us to salvation. We then respond to his reaching out.
This is the same case today. This whole structure including the tabernacle may be a sign of us reaching out to God but the Tabernacle and even the Mass is God reaching out to us first.
Proclaiming Christ’s Presence
One of the teachings we maintain as Catholics is that Christ is present in three ways in a Catholic Mass, through the Eucharist and by default in the Tabernacle, in the word of God preached at the liturgy of the Word and also in the presence of the people.
So we too have been called as a community to bring Christ to the world around us. Why? Because it is not that we love God but that he loves us first and so through us, God is reaching out first to those around us.
This becomes the powerful message that we see first in the Gospel reading today.
So many people understand the Church as a set of rules if you want to come to know Christ these are the rules you must follow. This completely misunderstands the true role is the exact opposite. Our Church is here so that we may draw closer to Christ but also as a sign to others that God is reaching out to them. It does not matter who they are.
Coming from the Boston Side of the Charles River
I always like to mention to those who do not live in the Boston area including those who listen to the radio program from as far away as South America, China, Africa, and Europe as well as Canada and Mexico and various states in the United States that we are seated surrounded by Harvard University and Near to Boston University. I explain that there are two parishes that Harvard surrounds, St. Paul on the Cambridge side and us here at St. Anthony’s on the Boston side.
Our presence here is saying to all of them as well as all the residents here, the Celtics and the Bruins all the stores and businesses and everyone else. God is reaching out to you. That is the message our church has here. This is because it is not that we go seeking after God, He comes seeking after us.
So that is why we are agents of the Kingdom. God works through us by being his representative to send his message.
What is the message people often hear? These are the rules and you must follow the rules or you go to Hell. Not an inviting message and that clearly is not the message God wants us to communicate to others. The message that he speaks through us is Come Follow Me and I will lead you into eternal life.
Powerful message for today
The Pauline orders formed by Fr. James Alberione have a saying you will see in their chapels that speak it well. He apparently heard the Lord saying this to him. One chapel for example, when you walk in you see the words immediately: “Be sorry for your sins”. Ok, that message is often equated with Christianity and especially Catholicism. However, the message does not reflect well God’s call to others until you hear the second part of the message. “From here on I will enlighten you.”
The whole message can also be understood as “Come follow me and I will lead you to your destiny in eternal life.”
However, too often people only hear examples of the first part of the message and all they hear is “If you die with a mortal sin on your soul, you will end up in Hell.” I am not so sure this represents God’s intention through us well. It is like saying to someone “If you drink poison you will die.” The obvious response is “Why would I want to drink poison if I knew it would kill me?”
Whereas the true message if heard well will lead people to react as John did. John jumps in joy at his encounter with the Lord. He does not shake in fear at the being in the presence of God. We too are called to a similar example to jump for Joy that it is God who reached out to us first and calls us to eternal life. We need to communicate that to others.
Photo via CanvaPro