Today is the Feast of the Visitation, when Mary went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, prior to the birth of John the Baptist. You probably remember how John, the infant in Elizabeth's womb, leapt for joy upon encountering Mary, who was carrying Jesus in her own womb, as John's mother greeted Mary with the words: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!"
When my husband and I were received into the Catholic Church in 2010, I chose Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist (also called the Kinswoman, owing to her blood relationship to Mary), as my patron saint. I wrote about it a little bit at Christmas time, but basically, what impressed me so much about Elizabeth is the following.
She was six months pregnant when Mary, her young cousin, came to visit. She was probably just starting to get uncomfortable. She was aware that the son in her womb was to have a special purpose in God's plan of salvation. She was probably spending most of her time thinking about that, because her husband had been struck mute, so she hadn't had much of a conversation partner for a while. She had been unable to bear a child all her married life, so she finally had the child she had desired for so long. She was of "advanced maternal age," which I can imagine means everything hurt just a little bit more than it would for an average pregnant woman.
And then her young cousin, Mary, comes for a visit. Mary comes to visit unmarried and pregnant. Besides her piety, the facts of Mary's pregnancy appear to completely one-up everything that is special about Elizabeth's. Elizabeth is pregnant with the Prophet of the Most High, but Mary is pregnant with the Most High. Elizabeth is pregnant with a great Servant of God, but Mary is pregnant with God.
So, Elizabeth is one-upped by her kid cousin and has plenty of reasons for self-pity. Remember the mute husband and the advanced maternal age? In light of the visit, she could have grumbled inwardly about her surpassed fame and glory. She could have shut her eyes to Mary's piety and believed the most obvious natural explanation (Mary made a big, premarital mistake) rather than the miraculous one (Mary was visited by an angel and conceived by the Holy Spirit).
But Elizabeth does not do these things. In fact, to me, her reaction is truly astonishing. "Praise and blessing! I am so honored that you came to visit us! Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to serve me me and enter my home?"
Fitting for the mother of the greatest prophet that ever lived, but completely counter-intuitive to my petty, backbiting, envious, competitive, selfish self.
St. Elizabeth, ora pro nobis! Help us to greet the Christ child and the Mother of God as you and your son did once, long ago!
Three years ago, I apparently gave birth to what has grown into a walking, talking, question-asking, running, laughing, praying, eating, thinking, dancing, singing, jumping, bike-riding, loveable little boy. Amazing. I've told and re-told his birth story so many times now that I've forgotten the reality of what it was like, and each time I remember it, it seems to change a bit. I have revised it according to different themes on multiple occasions throughout the last three years. But what persistently comes to the fore is that it was scary, it changed everything, and now, as a mother, I know what it means to "bear fruit that is eternal."
We had one of the priests from our parish over for dinner last night (who happens to share a birthday with this special little boy, and who happens to be one of the special little boy's favorite non-family members), we will go to the zoo this morning and have his favorite meal for dinner tonight, and we may or may not have a birthday party with cupcakes and balloons on Saturday, since the only invitee (at his request!) is his cousin, whose mother just gave birth to another baby, this afternoon!
We love you, little boy!