“During those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:39-40)
When I was in college, I regularly participated in Alternative Breaks – spring trips that brought me to new communities and made me a humble student in service to them; these trips often entailed somewhat arduous travel, whether it was plane rides or car trips, and our daily activities varied from laying drainage pipe to learning how to play the dulcimer (a classic bluegrass instrument with Appalachian roots).
I know I looked forward to what I would learn each time I went, but the travel was a regularly daunting thought. Today’s celebration of the Feast of the Visitation reminded me each time that the desire and heart to serve won out over comfort in the life of Mary.
Through mountains and plains and forest, Mary trekked over ninety miles from Nazareth to Ein Kerem, where her cousin Elizabeth lived. Nazareth is nestled in mountains, and to imagine Mary, young and newly pregnant, finding her way through elevated and ever-changing terrain tells me that there is very little (if anything) that should stop us from serving one another.
Mary is this prime example of sacrificial service because we see no hesitation in her before choosing to assist Elizabeth; her elder cousin was pregnant and would need an extra set of hands. Mary set off, trusting that what she had been told in the Annunciation was true and knowing that Elizabeth would likely appreciate the help!
Love and sacrifice often coexist. We sacrifice because we care for another, be it stranger or friend. I never knew who I was going to meet in an Alternative Break but agreed to journey and offer my time and strength anyway; Mary’s sacrificial service was an inspiration to us, how she selflessly prioritized hospitality for her cousin over staying put and preparing for her own Child. She humbly and beautifully displays practical and sacrificial love: without any question or hesitation.
We see this clearly in the Magnificat, the center of the Visitation narrative in the Gospel of Luke – Mary glorifies God in His choice of a “lowly handmaid” for His Son (Lk. 1:46-55) and then joyfully, humbly remains with Elizabeth and Zechariah until after the birth of John the Baptist three months later. We can imagine she readily offered her time in household chores: cooking and cleaning, laundry and mending, and preparing supplies to aid her cousin with a pure and holy servant’s heart.
We have many opportunities like this around us – they simply require our openness. I never would have guessed that learning an instrument and listening to someone’s stories was considered service until long after the experience. I realized that each was a willful giving of my time to learn, and in learning, I was able to serve more effectively and wholeheartedly.
Mary chose love through humble, caring chores, even after her selfless service to the world through her Fiat. The first thing she did after receiving her Son was serve another. May we pray for a heart that does the same each time we receive Christ!
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