There are certain persons in our lives who, when we see them or hear their voice, make our heart skip a beat with delight. They are the ones who can make us laugh when everything seems gray. They are the ones who have strong arms and a soft heart, who wrap us in a smothering bear hug that makes everything seem all right. They are the wise ones who have weathered many a storm and whose assurances that all will be well can be trusted absolutely. Such is the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth in today’s Gospel. The moment Elizabeth heard Mary’s voice, both her own heart and the babe in her womb leaped for joy. Mary undoubtedly felt the same.
Oftentimes we imagine Mary, the younger of the two, hastening from Galilee to Judea out of concern and generosity to help her older relative, who is coping with pregnancy at an advanced age. Without discounting this aspect of their encounter, we may also envision Elizabeth as the wise figure of an elder mentor, who wraps the bewildered teenage mother-to-be in her strong embrace, offering her wisdom and strength in a difficult time. God’s timing is difficult for both women. How much easier it would have been for Elizabeth had her child come when her body was more limber and supple. How much easier it would have been for Mary had her child arrived after her marriage to Joseph.
In a culture in which a woman was esteemed for the male children she bore, Elizabeth likely endured accusatory glances and unkind comments throughout her life as people wondered why God was punishing her with barrenness. Likewise, in Mary’s little village of Nazareth, the gossip about her probably started flying once her condition was known. Elizabeth, who has been utterly faithful to God all her life (Lk 1:6) despite the suffering she has endured, is the perfect companion for Mary. She helps Mary learn to trust even more deeply the mysterious ways of God, as she endures the many difficulties that come with saying “yes” to God.
In like manner, we too carry the mysterious power of God’s life within us, which enables us to be a source of delight and blessing for others. When we abandon ourselves to the mysterious ways of God, it is not only for ourselves that the new life within is given. We are meant to be companions to one another, a source of mutual joy, wisdom and strength.