On July 16, 2022, Sister Mary Margaret Weber, CSC, shared the Reflection after the Word for the Congregation’s 2022 virtual Jubilee celebration that connected Holy Cross sisters across the globe. The five jubilarians, who Zoomed in from three countries, had selected a Gospel reading for the celebration. Sister Mary Margaret contemplated the selection, from which she prepared this reflection.
Sister Joy O’Grady, CSC—50 Years (U.S.)
Sister Maria de Lourdes de Deus Pimentel, CSC—25 Years (Brazil)
Sister Noylí Margot Ríos Manzo, CSC—25 Years (Peru)
Sister Sheshanti Margaret Nokrek, CSC— 25 Years (Bangladesh)
Sister Linda Veronica Gomes, CSC—25 Years (Bangladesh)
Thank you for the witness of your faithfulness for 25 and 50 years.
We are also grateful for the faithful witness of Sister Mary Jane Honan, CSC, who died in April 2022 and is celebrating her Diamond Jubilee (60 years) from the other side of life.
Of all the Gospel readings you could have chosen for this celebration, you chose this one, the Visitation. So I approached it with curiosity, wondering what message you want to convey to us.
It’s a story of two women—cousins we’re told …
Two pregnant women …
One young, one old …
One who had longed for a child for many years and was thrilled to be pregnant at last …
One who wasn’t as thrilled …
One whose pregnancy made her a successful woman in the eyes of her society that saw motherhood as the only sign of success for women …
One whose pregnancy marked her as an unfaithful woman by that same society that decreed stoning such a woman …
Both of these women had experiences that left them no doubt that their pregnancies were from God. The signs were unmistakable. God had intervened in their lives.Sisters, we live in a of Elizabeths and Marys. Elizabeths whose lived experience has given them a wisdom gained from surviving and thriving from many of life’s storms. Among us there are Marys, women who have caught the , have seen what the Elizabeths have done and how they’ve done it, and feel called to continue living that vision into reality. We are made one by our call to Holy Cross. Together with our and other partners in ministry, we stand at the foot of the cross in this time and place. Together we choose and commit ourselves anew to God’s desire for the transformation of human hearts and human relationships and all creation. Together we “take up this work of resurrection.”
“Too often … we assume that such clear experiences of God
in our lives are reserved for the special, reverent few.
And if we look for what isn’t there, we often miss what is.”
Seeing signs of God’s presence
These signs are important to look at in order for us to see this Visitation scene more clearly. Too often, I think, we assume that such clear experiences of God in our lives are reserved for the special, reverent few. And if we look for what isn’t there, we often miss what is.
The signs are provided by the storyteller Luke. These signs, like all signs, have a purpose. Luke wants the signs to assure and to authenticate. They begin with the previous story, the Annunciation.
Mary’s first sign is a messenger from God, the angel Gabriel. Most art depicting this sign has Mary at prayer, but the text does not mention that she’s praying. It doesn’t tell us what she’s doing. She could be doing anything. That’s important to note when talking about signs from God.
The text tells us that this messenger initiates a conversation with Mary. We all know what was said. Mary was going to have a child, even though she hadn’t—as the scriptures put it—“been with a man.” How can this be?
Not to worry, Gabriel says. The conceiving power in you will be the Holy Spirit. God will provide what is needed. As the African American former slave and abolitionist Sojourner Truth said in her famous “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech, “Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him!”
And, the messenger says, here’s another clear, unmistakable sign of God’s intervention: Elizabeth, your kinswoman, your much older kinswoman, is pregnant! Six months along! The one who was thought to be beyond that possibility!
Affirming miracles in one another
Elizabeth also gets some signs of divine intervention. First of all, her husband Zechariah becomes mute just when he is scheduled to preside at temple services. And then her own pregnancy, achieved through natural means, when everyone, including herself, thought that was impossible. Lastly, Zechariah’s ability to speak returns in time for him to confirm the name John given to their son, after Elizabeth had already named him.
So now, the Visitation. Mary senses the need to go to her cousin, never mind the difficulty in getting there. And the signs …
Mary’s presence evokes a physical response in Elizabeth—“the babe in her womb leaped for joy.” Now six months into the pregnancy, this probably was not the first time Elizabeth had experienced the movement of the child in her womb but when it happened at this moment, she interpreted it differently—as a sign of God’s presence in Mary. “Blessed is she who believed.”
Mary’s response is another sign. She breaks forth into a prayer of praise, quoting Hannah, a woman from the first book of Samuel, similar to Elizabeth, who also longed for a child and had that longing fulfilled. Notice, it’s not a prayer of lament or intercession. After all, given Mary’s situation, that might have been appropriate. But no. It’s a prayer of praise we call The Magnificat, praising a strong God who intervenes with unmistakable signs in the lives of those who trust in this powerful and faithful God—women like Mary and Elizabeth.
"The signs were unmistakable.
God had intervened in their lives."
Growing in relationship
Mary and Elizabeth are two women who are drawn to each other, two women who see in the other strength for the journey ahead. The societal barriers of age and experience are not erased but rather transformed.
Mary looks at Elizabeth and sees an older, wiser woman, whose lived experience can serve as a resource for her own young life. In Elizabeth she sees a woman who has withstood many of life’s storms and remained faithful. She sees in her a mentor, a spiritual companion with whom it is safe to share her experience of the Holy One.
Elizabeth looks at Mary and she sees a woman of faith and a woman of strength. She sees in Mary a woman who is willing to risk saying “yes” even though she doesn’t have half as much life experience to assure her that it will turn out OK. Perhaps Elizabeth sees in Mary a reminder of herself in her younger years as she yearned to be a faithful woman within the tradition of Judaism and sees how her life experience can serve as a support for Mary as she lives into her calling.
Trusting our inner knowing
Earlier I talked about the signs that Luke wrote into these stories of the Annunciation and Visitation. I suggested that they have a purpose to authenticate the experiences of God that Mary and Elizabeth had. My question is, what do these experiences look like without these signs? What if we remove them—no Gabriel and the spoken message, no timely leap of the babe in Elizabeth’s womb, no prayer of praise from Mary. What if both Mary and Elizabeth experienced these messages of call and presence deep within? What if they knew these messages intuitively?
What if Mary’s intimacy with God was so deep, so vibrant, that she knew, not by outward signs but by inward ones, that she had been chosen to be the Christ-bearer? And trusted that knowing? What if Elizabeth also simply knew, had an intuition about, what had been asked of Mary? And trusted that knowing? What if Elizabeth simply knew that her pregnancy was closely related to Mary’s? And trusted that knowing? What if both of these women listened to and trusted their intuition?
If you ponder these “what ifs,” can you not see that your experience of God’s guidance and presence is more similar to rather than different from Mary and Elizabeth? Haven’t you had moments when you just knew what God was asking of you, the direction in which you were being led? Moments when you heard God’s voice, not audibly but in the depths of your hearts? Haven’t you ever made a decision that “felt right,” one based on intuition without a lot of facts to back it up? When asked, all you could say was “I just know”? You trusted your intuition.
"Haven’t you had moments when you just
knew what God was asking of you ..."
One in Holy Cross
I believe each of us have had many such experiences during our moments of prayer and contemplation and in the midst of our daily lives. It’s these moments that bring us to this moment, when we celebrate jubilee and the faithfulness of 25, 50 and 75 years. Jubilarians, it’s your faithfulness over the years that affirms that when it comes to a deep relationship with God, you are like Mary and Elizabeth, not different.
Several years ago, one of our younger sisters named me as her Elizabeth. By that I mean she let me know she valued my wisdom, such as it is, and whatever I shared with her about my life’s journey was helpful to her. She affirmed my many years of faithfulness in Holy Cross as a resource for her as she began her journey in Holy Cross.
I, in turn, named her as my Mary. I saw in her youthful energy and enthusiasm for her ministry, and her love for Holy Cross a reminder of how I felt at her age and an affirmation of my journey. As I was a resource for her, she was a resource for me. We were both a nourishing presence for each other. That mutually supportive relationship continues to this day.
I also have a few Elizabeths in my life. I call them wisdom figures. They are sisters older than I am, women of deep faith whose life journeys are inspirations for my own. I want to be as resourceful, as resilient, as faithful and as loving when I am their age.
And maybe for some of them, I am their Mary.
Sisters, we live in a congregation of Elizabeths and Marys. Elizabeths whose lived experience has given them a wisdom gained from surviving and thriving from many of life’s storms. Among us there are Marys, women who have caught the Moreau vision, have seen what the Elizabeths have done and how they’ve done it, and feel called to continue living that vision into reality. We are made one by our call to Holy Cross. Together with our associates and other partners in ministry, we stand at the foot of the cross in this time and place. Together we choose and commit ourselves anew to God’s desire for the transformation of human hearts and human relationships and all creation. Together we “take up this work of resurrection.”