Mary heard more than her call to be God’s First Lady. Her cousin Elizabeth was in need.
The angel hadn’t told her to go to Elizabeth’s aid—but the Holy Spirit did. Mary had proclaimed herself the servant of the Lord. Now she would be the servant of Elizabeth.
With Mary and Elizabeth, God lit two intimate candles, the flame of the one lighting the other—a domestic Pentecost.
Why is this significant? Because most of us are not called to be missionaries to the world in the way the apostles were. But we are called to live out a domestic Pentecost. Our mission is right where we are, within our families, in our workplaces, in our communities. Yes, he calls us to be missionaries. Better said, if we have received the Holy Spirit, he will move us to be missionaries. He will put in our hearts spoudē the eagerness and the zeal that moved Mary and later Paul, who said, “The love of Christ impels us” (2 Corinthians 5:14). But don’t dream of evangelizing foreign lands if you are not evangelizing the ground on which you stand.
Mary Acted. Carrying Jesus and filled with the Spirit, Mary moved south, reaching the hill country of Judea. This detail is not lost on the Church as it contemplates this scene in her liturgy: “The sound of my lover! Here he comes / springing across the mountains, / leaping across the hills” (Song of Songs 2:8). Mary was walking, or at best riding on a donkey, but her heart was like a deer, flying over rocks and ravines with great news. Tradition has it that she arrived at the village of Ein Karem (Vineyard Spring), a fitting setting for the creator of all life whom Mary was carrying in her womb. There “she entered the house of Zechariah” (Luke 1:40). Zechariah, like Mary, had been visited by a heavenly messenger announcing the birth of a son, John the Baptist. But unlike Mary, he had doubted that such an event was possible to a couple as aged as he and his wife were. The event literally left him speechless—not from wonder, but from his feeble faith. So it is not surprising that he has nothing to say and makes no appearance when Mary greets Elizabeth. In Luke’s story, the women steal the show:
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,
Most 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. (Luke 1:41-44)
Elizabeth must have been in the back of the house, for it is not the sight of Mary that launches their interaction but the sound of her voice. That detail is significant for more than one reason. From now on, the living voice will be the privileged way of sharing the good news. (At Mass, missalettes let us see the word, but the Church wants us to listen to it.) The baby John could not see Mary, but he could hear her. “Faith comes from what is heard” (Romans 10:17). It is at the sound of Mary’s voice that the Holy Spirit acts, thus confirming the intimate and ongoing relation of Mary with the Holy Spirit. All Mary has to do is to sing out, “Shalom, Elizabeth!” and the Holy Spirit leaps to her cousin and makes the unborn dance. David danced before the ark (2 Samuel 6:14), but he was an adult. John dances even before he walks.
The Holy Spirit Moved. The Holy Spirit does more than excite mother and child. Elizabeth obviously receives a word of knowledge from the Spirit informing her that Mary, too, is pregnant. And more than that, she is “the mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43). Just as the whole of Luke’s infancy Gospel is a domestic Pentecost, so this scene is already suffused with the light of Easter and the confession that Jesus is Lord. Elizabeth manifests the Holy Spirit within her by this confession, for as Paul will say, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Elizabeth finds on her lips the words of David—“How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9)—when she says, “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). Here, then, is another way in which Luke is hinting that Mary is the new ark of the covenant.
Elizabeth concludes: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45). This is Elizabeth’s second blessing of Mary. In the first, she blessed her for being “mother of my Lord.” Now she blesses Mary for her faith. The older woman may have been thinking of Zechariah’s disbelief, but the fact is that Mary, too, had to believe that what the angel had promised her would be fulfilled. After all, there was no immediate physical confirmation of her pregnancy. But Mary did act upon the revelation that her cousin was pregnant and would soon need help. And indeed she found it to be so when the two expectant mothers met.
Pray that the Lord grant you a listening ear like that of Mary, who heard and acted on everything he said. He wants you to ponder the great things he has done for you, but he also calls you to act. Ask the Lord to cleanse the ears of your heart and fill you with his Holy Spirit. May the Lord empower you to share the great news with others in your family, among your friends, and at your workplace. May the Holy Spirit whom he has given to you bless those you meet, and may that same Spirit echo back a blessing for you as well.
This is a selection from Mary’s Life in the Spirit: Meditations on a Holy Duet, by George T. Montague, SM (The Word Among Us Press, 2011).