By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published May 26, 2011
As a child, I longed for visits from relatives. My parents had moved to Miami from New York when I was only seven, so there was a cherished crowd of aunts, uncles and cousins left behind. A visit was a time to eat special meals and sit spellbound at the table as the adults told stories about the past.
And so one summer when my mother’s sister wrote to announce that she and her two children were coming to stay with us, I was overjoyed. I grabbed the little gold key, unlocked my diary and began pouring out my excited thoughts: “Three more weeks,” “two more weeks,” and finally the grand announcement: “They’re here!”
Alas, it seems that reality didn’t quite live up to my dreams. I had envisioned hours of cheerful board games and dashing around the sprinklers in the front yard. What I didn’t foresee was the undeniable fact that when you add three extra people to a small house, there will be squabbling, screaming and the occasional all-out tantrum.
These memories tug at my heart each year on May 31, the Feast of the Visitation. I’m always touched by the realization that the young girl Mary hurried to visit her pregnant cousin right after getting the news from an angel that would change her own life—and that of the whole world—forever.
St. Luke provides few details about the actual visit, but we can imagine them. The two women are both pregnant in what the world would call impossible situations–Elizabeth because of her age, and Mary because of her virginity. So I’m thinking that a major item of conversation had to be the miracles unfolding in their lives.
But first there would be the preliminary niceties to indulge in.
Now in my family, predictable things happened whenever someone stepped across the threshold. No one could be in the house more than a minute before my mother offered them something to eat or drink. This is the Italian way, of course, and for a guest to reject something on the grounds that they’ve just consumed a five-course meal, or they’re on a diet, borders on an insult.
Mary and Elizabeth were both Middle-Easterners, a culture known for an elaborate and enthusiastic welcoming of guests, so I can picture Elizabeth summoning a sumptuous spread of delicious foods for her young guest to sample. I see them, sitting together, talking and eating delightful delicacies, for hours.
Today many people limit their visits based on the belief that too much familiarity can breed contempt. But in Mary’s day, the trip to see Elizabeth would have been quite arduous, and she wouldn’t have stayed just a week—or even a month. In fact, Elizabeth was in the sixth month of her pregnancy when Mary set out to visit her—and Mary stayed until the baby was born.
We can conclude that this three-month stay was more than just a friendly visit. Indeed, it was an act of compassion, the first thing Mary did after conceiving the baby in her own womb. Filled with Christ’s love her heart overflowed—and she went to help Elizabeth. She was most likely there when Elizabeth went into labor, and surely helped her afterward with the baby.
As for me, I’m still like the little girl who wrote so enthusiastically in the diary, looking forward excitedly to the news that relatives are coming to visit. But unlike that little girl, I don’t expect the visits to be perfect. I know that babies will pitch fits and tempers may flare. However, I still wouldn’t trade the visits for anything in the world.
Scripture doesn’t tell us this, but I envision Elizabeth remembering Mary’s visit fondly. And maybe, as Elizabeth embraced her baby, John, she mulled over the words she had spoken upon first seeing her young cousin: “And whence is this to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
It is likely that, over time, Elizabeth received an answer to her question about why Mary stayed with her. It was a friendly visit from a cousin, yes, but so much more: Elizabeth was the recipient of the first compassionate action in the world that was rooted in the love of Christ.