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The Spirit at work in the Visitation of Mary

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Holy Spirit
General Audience, 13 June 1990 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The truth about the Holy Spirit is clearly given in the Gospel texts which describe moments in the life and mission of Christ. We have already paused to reflect on Jesus' virginal conception and birth from Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit. There are other pages of the infancy Gospel, to which we must direct our attention, because these highlight the action of the Holy Spirit in a special way.

One of these moments is surely the passage in which the evangelist Luke recounts the visit of Mary to the house of Elizabeth. We read that "during those days Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah" (Lk 1:39). It is commonly understood that he is referring to the locality of Ain-Karim, six kilometers west of Jerusalem. Mary went there to be near her relative Elizabeth, who was older than she. Mary went there after the annunciation, to which the visitation was almost a complement. The angel had said to Mary: "Behold, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month of her who was called barren; for nothing is impossible with God" (Lk 1:36-37).

Mary undertook the journey to Elizabeth "in haste," certainly out of a heartfelt need to offer her loving service as a sister during those months of advanced pregnancy. Within her sensitive and gentle spirit a feeling of feminine solidarity was blossoming, as is characteristic of such circumstances. But against that psychological backdrop, there was probably a special communion which was forged between her and Elizabeth during the announcement made by the angel. The son whom Elizabeth was expecting would be the precursor of Jesus and the one who would baptize him in the Jordan.

2. On the basis of that communion of spirits we understand why the evangelist Luke took so much care in accenting the working of the Holy Spirit during the meeting of the two future mothers: Mary "entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth, and when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit" (Lk 1:40-41). Elizabeth experienced this work of the Holy Spirit in a particularly profound way as she met Mary. It was related to the mysterious destiny of the son whom she was carrying in her womb. Earlier the baby's father Zechariah was heard to say, as he received the news about the birth of his son during his priestly service in the temple: "He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb" (Lk 1:15). At the moment of the visitation when Mary crossed the threshold of Elizabeth's house (and, with her, he who was already the "fruit of her womb" crossed it too), that presence of the Holy Spirit was felt in an experiential way by Elizabeth. She herself bore witness to that in the greeting which she addressed to the young mother who came to visit her.

3. According to the Gospel of Luke, Elizabeth "cried out in a loud voice and said, 'Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled'" (Lk 1:42-45).

In a few lines, the evangelist reveals to us the surprise of Elizabeth, the joyous leaping of the baby in her womb, and her at least somewhat confused understanding of the messianic identity of the baby that Mary was carrying in her womb. The text shows Elizabeth's recognition of Mary's faith in the revelation which was given her by the Lord. Beginning with these passages Luke uses the divine title "Lord" not only to speak of the God who reveals and promises ("the works of the Lord"), but also of the son of Mary, Jesus. In the New Testament the title is attributed to Jesus especially as the risen one (cf. Acts 2:36; Phil 2:11). Here he is yet to be born. But Elizabeth no less than Mary perceived his messianic greatness.

4. That means that Elizabeth, "filled with the Holy Spirit," was introduced into the depths of the mystery of the coming of the Messiah. Within her the Holy Spirit worked a special enlightenment which found expression in the salutation she addressed to Mary. Elizabeth spoke as if she were participating in and witnessing the annunciation in Nazareth. In her words, she defined the essence of the mystery which was at work at that moment in Mary. By saying "the mother of my Lord comes to me," she called the baby which Mary has been carrying in her womb "my Lord." Then she proclaimed Mary herself "blessed among women," and added: "Blessed is she who has trusted." It was as if she wished to refer to the attitude and behavior of the handmaid of the Lord, who answered the angel with her fiat: "May it be done to me according to your word!" (Lk 1:38).

5. The text of Luke shows his conviction that the Holy Spirit was acting, enlightening and inspiring both Mary and Elizabeth. Just as the Holy Spirit helped Mary perceive the mystery of her messianic motherhood brought about within her virginity, so the Spirit gave Elizabeth the ability to discover him whom Mary was carrying in her womb. She discovered what Mary was called to be in the economy of salvation: the "mother of the Lord." And the Spirit gave her the inner energy which prompted her to proclaim what she had learned "in a loud voice" (Lk 1:42), with a kind of enthusiasm and joy which are also the result of the Holy Spirit. The mother of the future preacher and baptizer in the Jordan attributed that joy to the baby whom she had been carrying for sixth months in her womb: "The infant in my womb leaped for joy." Mother and son were united in a kind of spiritual symbiosis, by which the exultation of the baby almost infected her who conceived him. Elizabeth broke out into that shout to express the joy which she profoundly shared with her son, as Luke testifies.

6. Continuing with the Lucan narrative, the Magnificat, the hymn of joy, welled up from the soul of Mary. In it she too expressed her joy: "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior" (Lk 1:4-7). Raised as she was in the Word of God by reading and meditating on the Sacred Scripture, Mary in that moment felt welling up from the depths of her soul the verses of the canticle of Anna, Samuel's mother (cf. 1 Sam 2:1-10) as well as other Old Testament verses. She gave free expression to the feelings of the "daughter of Sion," which found highest fulfillment in her. That is what the evangelist came to know so well, on the basis of the private conversations which he directly or indirectly shared with Mary. Among what was passed on there must have been news of that joy which the two mothers shared in common during that meeting, as the fruit of the love which beat in their hearts. It was the trinitarian Spirit-Love, who was revealing himself on the threshold of the "fullness of time" (Gal 4:4), inaugurated in the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word. Already in that blessed moment what Paul would later say was being fulfilled: "The fruit of the Holy love, joy, peace" (Gal 5:22)."

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Soeurs,

Chers pe’lerins et visiteurs d’expression française, je souhaite que ce fruit de l’Esprit mûrisse aussi en vous et s’y développe en abondance. Je vous bénis tous de grand coeur.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to welcome all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s Audience, especially the groups from England, Australia, the United States, India, Indonesia and Taiwan. My special greeting goes to the members of the Black gospel group from Louisiana, whose spirited singing has helped us to lift up our hearts to God. I also greet the Anglican pilgrims from Bunbury in Australia who have come to Rome in the company of their Bishop. Upon all of you I invoke the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit dieser Betrachtung grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher sehr herzlich. Euch allen und Euren Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns über Radio Vatikan verbundenen Hörerinnen und Hörern erteile ich gerne meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Presento ahora mi más cordial bienvenida a esta Audiencia a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española.

En particular a la numerosa peregrinación venida de Colombia y a los componentes del Grupo Coral Colombiano “ Ballestrinque ”.

A todas las personas, familias y grupos procedentes de los diversos países de América Latina y de España imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua portoghese

Amadíssimos irmãos e irmãs,

Aos peregrinos de língua portuguesa com meus melhores desejos de que vossa permanência em Roma sirva para aumentar vosso amor a Cristo e à sua Igreja, concedo benevolmente minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

“Idąc na cały świat, nauczajcie wszystkie narody, chrzcząc je w imię Ojca i Syna, i Ducha Świętego”.

W roku 1966 Kościół w Polsce wraz z całym narodem dziękował Trójcy Przenajświętszej za dar Chrztu przed Tysicleciem.

W roku 1988 dziękczynienie za dar Chrztu obęjło chrześcijan we wszystkich narodach, które początek swej chrześcijańskiej wiary i dziejów znajdują w Kijowie: Ukraina, Białoruś, Rosja. Przed tysiącem lat książę ruski Włodzimierz dokonał tego samego, czego niedawno przed tym dokonał książę polski Mieszko.

Bogarodzica w swym jasnogórskim wizerunku zwrócona jest równocześnie na Zachód i na Wschód. Od Pięćdziesiątnicy w jerozolimskim wieczerniku jest ona Matką Kościoła na całej ziemi, wśród wszystkich narodów.

Jakże wielką próbą wiary był poprzedzony jubileusz Tysiąclecia Chrztu Rusi, jak radykalną próbą!

Ileż ta próba pochłonęła ludzkich żywotów, ileż zadano cierpień! A zarazem - ileż zapisano świadectw heroicznych na miarę męczenników chrześcijańskich w pierwszych i późniejszych stuleciach. Wielkie martyrologium, jeszcze nie znane światu - a zarazem księga żywota, którą zna sam Bóg: Ojciec i Syn, i Duch Święty.

Rok 1989 ujawnił, że nie zdołano wykorzenić Imienia Boga żywego z ziemi żyjących.

Wspólnie z naszymi braćmi dziękujemy za Tysiąclecie Chrztu świętego Rusi na wielu miejscach ziemi. Dziękujemy również na Jasnej Górze.

Pozdrawiam pielgrzymkę z parafii Wniebowzięcia Matki Bożej z Bielawy; współpracowników misyjnych księży pallotynów; pielgrzymkę polonijną z Francji; grupę turystyczno-pielgrzymkową z Krakowa; podobną grupę z Wrocławia; grupę turystyczną Gromady z Nowego Sącza oraz z Brzeska-Okocimia; grupę Sport-Touristu z Bydgoszczy; pielgrzymów z parafii Matki Bożej Częstochowskiej z Zielonej Góry; grupy Biura Turystyki Zagranicznej i Funduszu Wczasów Pracowniczych; grupę esperantystów z Ciechanowa, jako też innych pielgrzymów z kraju i emigracji nie objętych tymi grupami.

Ai gruppi italiani 

Saluto i dieci sacerdoti novelli della diocesi di Brescia, che sono presenti a quest’Udienza insieme con i loro genitori ed alcuni altri familiari. Auspico di cuore che questa visita a Roma rinvigorisca i sentimenti che hanno ispirato la loro donazione al Signore, augurando ad essi un fecondo ministero.

Il mio pensiero va anche ai pellegrini provenienti dalla parrocchia di San Quirico a Legnaia, di Firenze, i quali, raccolti attorno al loro Parroco, festeggiano il 50º anniversario del suo ministero parrocchiale. Desidero esprimere le mie felicitazioni per questo significativo avvenimento, mentre chiedo per voi, cari fratelli e sorelle, che lo Spirito Santo vi faccia crescere, come comunità, in un rapporto di sempre maggiore carità reciproca.

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Saluto, infine, i Giovani presenti a questa Udienza, gli Ammalati e quanti generosamente li assistono e li accompagnano, e tutte le coppie di Sposi Novelli.

Rivolgo a voi, giovani studenti, ormai al termine degli impegni scolastici, un augurio di buone vacanze, e vi invito a considerare e adorare il Mistero di Gesù Eucaristia che la Chiesa celebra con solennità nei riti suggestivi del “Corpus Domini”.

Voi, ammalati, sappiate trovare nell’Eucaristia le energie necessarie per vivere con fortezza cristiana i momenti difficili della vostra particolare situazione. L’Eucaristia, che ci tiene uniti mediante un profondo legame di amicizia, sia per voi, sposi, sorgente di amore e di profonda comunione spirituale.

A tutti imparto la mia Benedizione.

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