By Kathy Poupart
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit, once wrote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” It is clear from the Gospel for this Fourth Sunday of Advent that St. Luke understands and lives this reality. The grace-filled moment of the Visitation when Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth, meet beautifully illustrates this truth.
Let us imagine the scene. Mary, newly pregnant with Jesus and learning of the late-in-life pregnancy of Elizabeth travels in haste to the hill country. This long and hard journey over hot dusty roads leads Mary to her cousin. As Mary arrives, Elizabeth hears her voice and filled with the Spirit her child, soon to be named John, leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. Elizabeth proclaims Mary’s greatness. Mary proclaims God’s greatness. It is a moment of profound recognition and realization on the part of all those present. This uniquely human experience between two pregnant women is laden with the intimate and dynamic movement of God’s Spirit.
There is a deep knowing on the part of Elizabeth. On Mary’s part her canticle, her Magnificat, is a response to Elizabeth’s words of praise. Mary’s words also announce God’s intervention into our authentic human experience. “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
This moment of deep knowing is exemplified in their compassion for each other and for their unborn children. An ordinary everyday occurrence takes on deeper meaning. Certainly, it is a moment of care and mutual concern for each other. But it is also a deeply mystical moment of recognition of God’s presence in the other. As the psalmist wrote, “Deep calls unto deep.” And the spontaneous response of Mary and Elizabeth is one of praise and proclamation of God’s goodness, and those words are lived out in three months of caring for each other.
In these waning days of Advent, the lesson for me is one of recognition and surrender. It seems as we prepare our heart for the birth of Jesus through prayer and compassion, we too begin to deeply recognize the Lord in those we meet. It seems natural that our response may echo another quote of Teilhard de Chardin. He wrote, “Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire!” Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
Kathy Poupart is Parish Life Director of St. Patrick–-St. Anthony Parish in Chadwicks, an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph and a graduate of Le Moyne College.