church, Scripture, spiritual

To See or Not to See: A Homily on the Visitation of Mary

Offered yesterday (May 31, 2019) at the noon Eucharist at Church of the Holy Family, Chapel Hill, NC…


Today we celebrate the feast of the visitation of Mary to her sister Elizabeth. So, today I wonder: What does visitation mean?

In the hospitals where I have been training as a chaplain, we have visiting hours. Here at Holy Family, we send out lay Eucharistic visitors to take Communion to those not able to be physically present among us.

Theologian John Swinton, in a book on dementia and pastoral care, writes about the spiritual practice of visitation. “The term ‘visit,’” he tells us, “has its origins in the Latin word ‘videre,’ meaning ‘to see, notice, or observe’ (hence the word ‘video’). To visit someone is to see them.”

To visit someone is to see them. Really see them and be seen by them, seeing beyond the superficial and into some truth of what is inside them. In today’s gospel story, there is a lot of this seeing going on.

Mary goes to the home of Elizabeth, who is pregnant. What is deep within Elizabeth sees what is deep within Mary. And what is deep within Mary, within her very womb, is God in the form of embryotic Christ Jesus.

From deep within, Mary knows that God has seen her. Seen fit even to dwell within her. As the text says, “he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant” (Luke 1:48).

 I was recently traveling in New England, and one day exploring the Boston area with a few friends we saw an older woman, likely homeless, sitting cross-legged on a street corner in Harvard Square and holding a cardboard sign that read: “I am the one you ignore.”

Honestly, my friends and I walked on by, but I couldn’t shake those words on her sign. “I am the one you ignore.” To see or not to see – apparently that is the question. Did I look, really look, at the woman in Harvard Square? Did I look with favor upon her? Does God?

Yes, according to today’s psalm, God loves the woman in Harvard Square and all like her. “He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap… He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children” (Psalm 113:7-9). That is God’s design for God’s kingdom.

God sees women, and men, in all manner of circumstances, and comes to dwell in their midst. Mary is an example of this. May we, like Mary, know that we are truly seen — truly visited — by God and are called to see the God in and among other people around us. Amen.

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