Elizabeth’s Faith

When Mary is told that her elder cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, she immediately leaves on a nearly 100-mile journey to Elizabeth’s home, to spend time with her and help her through several months of her pregnancy.  Mary does this, as we know, while herself pregnant. Upon the Virgin Mary’s arrival, Mary greets her cousin. We are told that “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 it happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? … Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.’” (NAB, LK 1:41-43, 45)

This passage teaches much about Mary, but it also reveals the incredible faith and giftedness of Elizabeth. Four of the main characters we consistently hear about during Advent are Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph, and Mary. Both sets of parents are involved in miraculous births. Zechariah and Elizabeth will have John, although Elizabeth is advanced in age and had been believed to be cursed with sterility. Joseph and Mary will have Jesus, although Mary remains a virgin and Jesus was conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit. Zechariah, Joseph, and Mary are all visited by the Angel of God who announces to them the Good News of God, and reveals God’s plans regarding the births of John and Jesus.

We are not told of any angelic visitation to Elizabeth, yet she exudes confident and mature faith, and even makes profound theological statements concerning Mary and Jesus. Elizabeth has a special kind of faith, one made possible by the scandal, dishonor, disgrace, and intense scrutiny and judgment of others. We know that she lived a blameless and righteous life, but many believed that she must be cursed by God, since she was barren and without child. Interestingly, however, God would glorify and exalt what others saw as bad and shameful, and reveal to us for all time, the saintliness of Elizabeth through her humility, a humility borne out of decades of humiliation at the hands of others. Elizabeth’s humility and closeness to God gave her to prophesy about Mary, calling her “most blessed,” and Jesus, calling him “Lord.”

Heavenly Father, give me humility, the key to a virtuous life. There are no saints in heaven who did not have humility, whether it was borne out of love or humiliation. Give me perseverance to live a blameless and righteous life, so that in humility, I may see your presence and your work around me and in others. May I be like Elizabeth, who after suffering much, recognized your love and your blessing, and used them to proclaim your glory to the world. Amen.

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Serve Others

While we pray and think about the upcoming celebration of Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of her son Jesus, Scripture makes us aware of another pregnancy with a promise. Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah, was becoming elderly and had been barren. Elizabeth, however, according to the prophecy of an angel and according to God’s will, did became pregnant with John the Baptist, and when Mary heard of Elizabeth’s pregnancy through the Angel Gabriel, she at once set off to help her elder cousin.

The nearly 100-mile trip that Mary took, likely by donkey along sweltering, unpaved roads, was difficult and treacherous, especially since she herself was pregnant. Nevertheless, her grace, the presence of Jesus, and her charitable desire to help her cousin supported her through her 4- or 5-day journey, until finally, “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, ‘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.’” (NAB, LK 1:40-44)

Mary stayed with her until just before the birth of John. Mary, the mother of God, served her cousin Elizabeth while she needed her. Jesus calls all of us to serve others in love and humility. [He who is greatest will be least. Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.]

Jesus, help me to see you and serve you in others. Fill me with your divine grace, so that through charity and humility, I may urgently serve you in others. Make me sensitive to those in need, especially the outcast, the rejected, the hurting, and the lost, so that your love, working through me, becomes a blessing to those in my world. Amen.

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