Last week we heard that the secret to the joy and happiness that we desire, and that God desires for us, is to remember that our God is near, to be steadfast in prayer, to have an attitude of gratitude, and to be irresponsibly generous! Today we see the value of a visit. On this 4th Sunday of Advent we see Mary visiting her cousin, Elizabeth.
I think the greatest struggle for me during this COVID pandemic has been the absence of family gatherings. I had to visit my mom through her screen window–like I was going to confession! Church’s were empty for over a year, Baptisms with only parents and godparents, weddings with no more than fifty people, funerals with only immediate family, and the death of loved ones with no one at their side as they passed to the Lord. Thanksgiving meals canceled, Christmas gatherings canceled, families divided, we couldn’t wait for Church doors to open again, and today’s Gospel speaks to us about why it has been so difficult–we are not made to be apart, but for each other, together–and to be apart, while necessary at times out of love, and safety, and obedience–is nevertheless, inconsistent with God’s will for us in our life. Love reveals itself. Hard to do while quarantined!
The letter to the Hebrews teaches us that sacrifice and offerings–personal piety, while good for us to grow in holiness, is not, ultimately, what God desires for us. No, we hear, “a body you prepared for me…behold, I come to do your will.” This body is God’s wonderful gift to us, and with it we do God’s will. With this body I can give a thumbs up, a fist bump, a wink, a smile, a hug, a hand, a hug or a kiss. All of these positive actions reveal the soul’s goodness and it’s unity with the Lord, and I share God’s love with others. That’s what we miss during COVID shutdowns. We weren’t aren’t able to love and do God’s will with this body he has prepared for us. It’s difficult for us because we want to love in this way.
As soon as I looked at this Gospel reading, I thought, that’s it. That’s what we’ve been missing. We’re missing The Visitation in our life. Mary travels to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Just as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, the child in her womb leaped for joy! John the Baptist dancing for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, at the presence of Mary and the Lord Jesus, in her own womb. How important it is to visit. How difficult a journey this has been, and I’m saddened greatly that we are once again seeing an increase in COVID infections. It’s spreading again like crazy. At my own school site we had almost a month without a positive case, now ours and other sites have a positive case every day and hospitals are once again filling up.
We are closing back up again, requiring masking indoors and canceling large gatherings again, and my prayer is that COVID spread is kept low enough to keep us in-doors and keep us in Church. To be apart is not of God. The incarnation is proof that God, who is love, wants to be with his people, and wants his people to be with each other. We were made to love, and love must be revealed, and that’s why this pandemic and its effects hurt so much. It is causing us to feel the loss of love, joy, and life that comes from a Visitation. My brothers and sisters, make no mistake, this is our generation’s cross to bear. And we mustn’t forget that the cross is an act of love too. This mask is my cross for sure, but I carry it out of love for others. It’s not easy. And does not bring joy–but that’s why it’s called a cross.
St. Teresa of Avila said, “When we are overcome by sadness, fear, or suffering; when the pains of loss overwhelm us; when evil seems to have taken power; let us look to the cross and be filled with peace, knowing that Christ has walked this road and walks it now with us.” The Visitation helps us understand our pain, and gives us good reason to hope, and to pray, and to pick up our cross and find creative and safe ways to visit; to love, even during this pandemic. May your Christmas visitations be joyful, and safe, and life-giving. Amen.