More Spiritual Reflections

Spiritual Reflections


The Visitation

Sr. Ruth Harkins, IHM
IHM Center, Scranton, PA
May 31, 2007

The Visitation: Evening Prayer

The passage from scripture, the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, is a familiar story to all of us. It is a story about faith; a story about friendship and intimacy; a story about believing.

It seems appropriate that we would celebrate this feast day in May, because May is a month filled with many different "visitation moments". Moments like attending a first communion; a graduation (whether it is kindergarten; elementary school, high school or college); a remembrance for Mother's day; a celebration of weddings, anniversaries or jubilees.

It really doesn't matter what the "visitation moments" were. They were special moments of grace—filled with good news, joy, celebration, faith, love, peace and hope. I invite you to take a moment to recall, to remember those "visitation moments" that you may have experienced during this month of May; in either ordinary or extraordinary ways. (pause)

May is a month filled with various "visitation moments". All of these moments share three essential elements for authentic hospitality – welcome, storytelling and mission.

Let's look at these simple, ordinary celebrations in May in light of the visitation story.

Elizabeth is the older cousin, the elder who is six months pregnant. Mary is the younger cousin, filled with hopes and dreams and new energy. Both women share a deep welcoming spirit of faith -- an emptiness for God, which empowered them to become pregnant – to bring forth new life in God. Mary and Elizabeth had a story to tell with their lives of faith, hope and love. They were women who believed in the promise of God's mercy and justice for the future and who gave their hearts, minds, spirits and whole selves to this vision. They were women of faith who welcomed the Word within; who shared their story and who believed in the dream of a God who would come to heal, to redeem and to liberate.

First, Mary and Elizabeth were women of WELCOME. Hospitality is about welcoming those who are different – and welcoming them on their terms, not ours. "Real hospitality," according to Robert Wicks in Everyday Simplicity, "is not merely being nice to people we don't know. It is welcoming them into our "home-with-God" through gestures which help them to find the divine presence in their own lives." It doesn't take us long to experience a true spirit of hospitality when we enter a place because we immediately feel at home. The host or hostess has a special way to make us feel comfortable, accepted, at ease and special.

I can recall vividly the spirit of hospitality that I experienced at my maternal grandmother's home every Sunday while I was growing up. When I was a child I remember complaining that we always spent Sunday at my grandmother's house with family when I had more important things to do. But today I recall the warmth of my maternal grandmother's Italian welcome every Sunday. I remember sitting around her to listen to stories about her family coming to America from Italy. And there were many stories since she was one of seventeen children. I remember the Sunday meals with what seemed like an endless buffet of food and the revolving door of family, relatives and neighbors. It is true there was no end to the pasta bowl; it just grew and grew. Mary and Elizabeth were women of welcome.

Second, Mary and Elizabeth were Women with a Story. Hospitality is

creating an atmosphere in which meaningful conversation can happen. where both guest and host share of themselves and bring forth new life in surprising and unexpected ways. Hospitality requires our willingness to set aside agendas to really be present to another who has a story that needs to be received. And this reality is often challenging for those of us who plan and organize their days, weeks and months. Hospitality requires not only an open door but also an open heart and mind. There is an element of flexibility, spontaneity and an openness to share the gift of presence. Hospitality is also about believing that the other carries gifts and promise that our hearts need to receive.

God weaves the story of Mary and Elizabeth as he weaves the fabric of our own stories. Mary was filled with joy, bursting with good news to share with someone who would listen and understand. Elizabeth too, was filled with joy and bursting with good news to share with someone who would accept her with unconditional love. They were willing to listen with their heart to the story of God unfolding in the life of one another Their mutual encouragement empowered them to go forward with confidence and joy, despite the struggle that still faced them. Elizabeth embodies the wisdom and care that older women can offer young women, who brave as they are, are just starting out on their journey through life.

If we take time to reflect on the various "visitation moments" that we have experienced just in this month of May we would recall that welcoming space where we felt free and at home to simply tell our story – at a meal, over a cup of coffee, while taking a walk, to name just a few.

Mary and Elizabeth were women with a story.

Third, Mary and Elizabeth were Women on a Mission. At the heart of hospitality is a genuine call to transformation for both those receiving and those offering it. "This sense of hospitality ultimately makes possible the doing of justice, for it creates the climate where dreams are nurtured and visions nourished. To nurture another's dream, to enter into another's world, is to have the heart of hospitality." (Sister Chris Koellhoffer, IHM) This is exactly what Elizabeth and Mary did for one another – nurtured the dream and courageously entered into the other's world. Their welcoming spirit of hospitality empowered them to tell their unique faith story while realizing their hearts and beings were being stretched to what seemed impossible. But they believed in the mission, their hearts were focused on the dream of God's reign. One older and wiser, the other young and energetic were bearers of hope for one another and for their time.

How many times have we experienced a similar relationship, possibly

a friendship like Elizabeth and Mary where we felt our story was welcomed and our call affirmed? Personally for me, I have had many mentors throughout my life. And as I take time to reflect, I can recall the many friends, family members, spiritual directors, professional colleagues and sisters who have nurtured me, affirmed my calling, challenged me, nourished my confidence and encouraged me along the way. And all these mentors shared a common commitment to prayer and solitude, welcoming God into their hearts each day. Or in the words of our own Sister Redempta Sweeny, "The true hospitality of heart is the deep union with God's infinite love in us that draws us out of ourselves in a loving, hospitality response to each person we meet in the course of a day."

How do you welcome the "visitation moments" from God each day? Who has created that sacred space where you can freely tell your story? And do you still believe in the promises of God – the dream of God's reign of peace and justice?

In summary, the visitation of Mary to Elizabeth exemplified the three qualities for authentic hospitality: welcome, storytelling and mission.

Mary and Elizabeth were women of WELCOME, women with a STORY and women on a MISSION.

"Hospitality urges us to provide a sacred space that supports the need to question, explore or reveal the stories we must tell in order to know ourselves at all, and in order to know ourselves as good, worthy and a unique images of God. It is our stories that make us visible, give us confidence and enable us, over time to re-image ourselves and experience the news of our lives as "good"." (Sister Ann Barbara DeSiano) May we be men and women with love and justice in our hearts, with welcome in our smiles, with service etched upon our hands so that we may always, love tenderly, act justly and walk humbly with our God.

I would like to close with a poem by Maria Rilke entitled:

Visitation of the Virgin

She still walked easily in the beginning.
Yet already was sometimes aware when climbing
Of her marvelous body's life within.
And then, pausing for breath, she stood upon
The high hills of Judea. But spread wide
Around her, was her fullness, not the land.
Walking, she felt; no one would overstride
The greatness which she now could understand.
And the need pressed on her now to lay her hand
On the other body, which had gone on further.
And the women leaned to one another, and
They touched each other on the dress and hair.
Each one, filled with her own sacred good
Used the other as shield in her plight.
Ah the savior in her still was bud,
But in her cousin's womb, the Baptist could,
And did, leap in rapture of delight.

Quotes taken from "Recovering Hospitality"
Journey Vol. 19, No. 3 Winter 2002
Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart Mary
Scranton, PA