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READ Lk 1:39-56
Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” And Mary said:
“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his Name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation. He has shown the strength of his arm, and has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.”
Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.
the infant leaped in her womb
So much truth is revealed to us in these six words. John the Baptist was aware that Jesus was the savior of the world and his savior even before either he or Jesus was born. This means Jesus did not obtain his divinity at a time after his birth as some heresies acclaim. John leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. This also means that babies in the womb have cognizance of the outside world, and supports the pro-life notion that the child in the womb has a will of his or her own. Later in this passage, Elizabeth tells Mary how her baby leaped for joy, but Scripture does not just take her word for it, lest someone should assume she was speaking some kind of hyperbole or euphemism. She recounts the event because it actually happened. John actually leaped for joy upon Jesus’ arrival, and the fact that he did speaks volumes.
Blessed are you among women
The Church’s dogma concerning Mary is backed up by Scripture, and this passage proves it. Elizabeth is saying that Mary is different. Among all the women of the world, she has been blessed in a very special way. She is referring to Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Her words hearken back to the words of the angel Gabriel, who greeted Mary saying, “Hail, full of grace” before the Holy Spirit even came upon her to bear her son, Jesus. To be blessed is a grace from God. It is a passive word. To be blessed has little if anything to do with us and everything to do with God.
He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.
Let’s not forget that every day we live is given to us by God through his mercy. The wages of sin is death, and it’s easy to forget that if we have sinned we deserve to die. We have become so accustomed to God’s mercy that we can easily forget to see it as such, and regard it as justice instead. The fact that I am alive is a mercy from God because I deserve death for the sins I have committed. Mary is right in saying we should fear God. Jesus said “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). When we fear him, we can then see how merciful he is to us for not giving us the punishment we deserve. Then we can begin to love him. The coming of Jesus into the world through Mary is a testament to that mercy. It is good that the Church deviates from Ordinary Time to recognize Mary’s special place in salvation history.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel for he has remembered his promise
Even after all their generations of unfaithfulness, God still did not give up on Israel. The same could be said of his faithfulness to the Church, the New Israel. God does not break his promises even when we do. I have been unfaithful in so many of my commitments, I don’t want to know where I’d be if I did not have a faithful God. Despite all the times I’ve turned from him, when I’m ready to turn back, I sense his loving embrace. This God of mercy is also a God of justice, though. A time will come, and has already come, when we have to live with the consequences of our decisions. This is something worth remembering when we think God will let us off without any punishment at all when we sin. Justice has to be served one way or another. That is why in the Old Testament God taught his people to sacrifice a lamb when they broke his commandments. Even though he forgave them, he had to show them that their sin comes at a cost. This Jesus in Mary’s womb is the Lamb of God that pays for all our sins, but it is God’s salvation--not his pardon. It is a reminder of his promise of eternal life. Every now and then, a loving parent has to remind his son of the promises he made. A good parent will do that by showing the child the price of breaking that promise. A bad parent who doesn’t care much about those promises will simply pardon his or her child. To pardon the breaking of a promise for no good reason is just another way of breaking a promise because it’s saying the promise doesn’t matter. Let’s not take Mary’s Magnificat the wrong way. She is not saying God is a father who left for so long that we thought he would never return, but he did eventually return when he said he would to the joy of Israel. She is saying God is serious about his covenants. He is keeping his promise, so we ought to keep ours as well.
Lord and Savior,
Thank you for your mercy and forgiveness. Thank you for sending your son into the world through Mary, our solitary boast. Help me to trust you and fear you, knowing your just punishment. But also help me to know you and love you, so the coming of your son makes me leap for joy. You are a merciful God. In Jesus’ name. Amen
God spoke to Mary and guided her actions. Doing his will led her to share in his glory so that all generations now call her blessed. We follow the Lord so his will may be done on earth as it is done in heaven. Let us listen so we may hear where God is leading us as Mary did.
Kilby is a freelance writer from New Jersey and managing editor of Catholic World Report.
Image: Fresco of the Assumption of Mary - Basílica de La Macarena - Seville