The Joyful Mysteries
Wednesday 13th May 2020
Second Joyful Mystery: The Visitation
‘Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could to a town in the hill country of Judah...Now as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, ‘Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. Why should I be honoured with a visit from the mother of my Lord?’
(Lk 1: 39-45)
I think we are all very familiar with the famous portrait of Henry VIII painted by Holbein the younger. The phrase, ‘a picture paints a thousand words’, is very true;
Especially, when we look at Henry! Here stands a man who wants to be seen as no mere mortal. From the fine fur lined coat to the opulent jewel encrusted chains and garter, Henry proudly, loudly and unabashedly proclaims ‘I am King!’. His stance is strong, his facial expression is confident and smug, and the blatant revealing of the dagger is menacing. There is no trace of humility anywhere on this canvas. What makes this Tudor king more exacerbating is that when Holbein painted the ‘cocky monarch’ between 1536-1537, Henry had committed numerous crimes against God and his fellow man! This painting portrays an ego bursting with self-assertion at the achievements of the ‘I’ and ‘Me’ and all at the cost of the ‘other’.
What would a portrait of Our Lady look like? What would be the expression on her face? How would she be dressed? What position would she have taken for the artist at her sitting? Though we have no such portrait in paint or oils we can still see Our Mother very clearly in the words of Scripture. Every page and word rather than brushstroke or etching, paints the image of Mary who is the model of faith for us to aspire and emulate.
Today’s mystery of the Visitation paints a portrait of humility, a virtue that Jesus taught us all to embrace. ‘For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’ (Lk 14:11). We see our Lady as the very embodiment of humility in this mystery, not by words but by actions. Actions that speak louder than words! Humility is that virtue which recognises our total dependence upon God. No matter our skills, gifts and talents all of these are from God. No matter our personal achievements and the blessings we have, all these are from God.
St. John Vianney described humility perfectly when he wrote:
‘Who can contemplate the immensity of a God without humbling himself into the dust at the thought that God created heaven out of nothing, and that with one word he could turn heaven and earth into nothing again? A God who is so great, and whose power is boundless; a God filled with every perfection; a God with his never-ending eternity, his great justice, his providence, who rules everything so wisely, and looks after everything with such care, and we a mere nothing!’
There is a medieval spiritual classic, still in print today, known as the ‘The Imitation of Christ’ by Thomas á Kempis. Again, the virtue of humility is described in regards to our relationships with others.
‘Do not think yourself better than others lest, perhaps, you be accounted worse before God Who knows what is in man. Do not take pride in your good deeds, for God’s judgments differ from those of men and what pleases them often displeases Him. If there is good in you, see more good in others, so that you may remain humble. It does no harm to esteem yourself less than anyone else, but it is very harmful to think yourself better than even one. The humble live in continuous peace, while in the hearts of the proud are envy and frequent anger.’
The portrait of Mary in this Joyful Mystery paints a thousand words. She has been chosen to be the Mother of God. The Saviour and Messiah will be born to her. Of all women she is the most blessed. Of all mothers blessed is the fruit of her womb. Of all women she is the one chosen by God and full of His grace. Yet the first thing she does after having this wonderful blessing from God is to go out and serve.
Mary’s actions after the Annunciation are not to boast or makes demands on others because of her status and unique privilege. She makes the arduous journey to serve Elizabeth. The Mother of God walks miles and miles to care for her cousin who is expecting her own new born. Mary comes to Elizabeth’s home not as a visiting monarch but as a humble and lowly handmaid.
It is after this action of humble service that we then hear Mary’s words which embody the virtue of humility. Her prayer, found in Luke’s Gospel, is called the Magnificat.
‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
and my spirit exults in God my Saviour;
because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid...’ (Lk 1:46-48)
Our Lady acknowledges that she is poor when she refers to herself as ‘his lowly handmaid’. She is poor because she brought nothing into the world. Her life, her faith, her blessings and her hopes are all from God and God alone. Mary joyfully proclaims her poverty because through it God had made her rich and bountiful. In her nothingness she has everything. In her poverty she has had no distractions or false gods and therefore has been able to see clearly the hand of God in her life. Everything received freely and lavishly from the Lord, Mary has welcomed and given joyful praise, a praise that naturally flows into humble actions and thankful deeds.
First Single Bead: Our Father
Let us pray during this mystery that we may embrace the virtue of humility which is always the first stage of the spiritual life.
Ten Beads: Hail Mary for each one
As we contemplate the humble service of Mary, the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven, to her cousin Elizabeth let us ask ourselves some questions. Are we humble? Do we recognise that everything we have is from God? If we were to have our portrait painted what would it say to the viewer? Is this the true image we wish to leave the world or do we need to humbly start a new canvas and begin again? What is our Magnificat? What are we thankful to God for? Are we selective and prejudice in the people we choose to serve? Does service depend on how much effort it involves for us personally?
Single Bead: Glory be
As we pray the Glory Be today, let it be a prayer of thanks to God the Holy Trinity for his saving love and mercy. In the Fatima Prayer may it be an act of love for others and we remember that today is the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
Tomorrow we will meditate on the third Joyful Mystery, The Nativity.
God Bless and keep praying. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.