16 December 2015

'The child in my womb leaped for joy.' Sunday Reflections, 4th Sunday of Advent, Year C

Book of Hours of Maréchal de Boucicaut, 1405-08 
Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

The Visitation, El Greco, 1610-13 
Dumbarton Oaks, Washington DC [Web Gallery of Art]

About eight years ago I celebrated Mass on the Feast of the Visitation in a home for girls where most come from a background of abuse. One girl of 16, whom I'll call 'Gloria', was pregnant. She was from another part of the Philippines and had been working in a restaurant and said that one of her co-workers was responsible. I wasn't quite sure to what extent the cause of the pregnancy had been consensual or whether the young man had taken advantage of the young woman. Perhaps there was an element of both.

Gloria was very angry and would not accept the baby she was carrying who was by this time around six months, as I recall. I invited her at the end of the Mass to come forward for a blessing for herself and her child. She agreed. I placed my hand gently on her stomach, as Elizabeth is about to do in the painting on parchment from the Book of Hours at the top and as both she and Mary do in the painting below, while I prayed. 

The Visitation, Rogier van der Weyden, c.1445 
Museum der Bildenden Künste, Leipzig [Web Gallery of Art]

Gloria told me afterwards that she could feel the baby moving as I blessed them both - and she had a smile on her face. She was able to go home to her own place some time later where she gave birth.

The French miniaturist of the Book of Hours of Maréchal de Boucicaut and Rogier van der Weyden both capture the sacredness of the lives of the unborn Jesus and John the Baptist. El Greco captures the swirl of a dance of life, the flowing blue robes suggesting the joy of the two pregnant mothers, Mary and Elizabeth.

Today's gospel has particular relevance in the context of ongoing public debates in a number of countries about abortion, including Ireland and the USA.


One of a number of ministries to both women and men who have been directly affected by abortion is Rachel's Vineyard. I have connections with Rachel's Vineyard, Ireland, which has brought its healing retreat to such places as the Faroe Islands, South Korea and Lebanon.

Del Verbo Divino
San Juan de la Cruz

Del Verbo divino
la Virgen preñada
viene de camino:
¡ si les dais posada !

Concerning the Divine Word
St John of the Cross

With the divinest Word, the Virgin
Made pregnant, down the road
Comes walking, if you'll grant her
A room in your abode. 

Translation by Roy Campbell

Posada is a Spanish word meaning 'lodging' or 'accommodation'. In some Spanish-speaking countries, especially Mexico, Las Posadas is a nine-day preparation for Christmas.

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