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Mary and the Economy of the Gift

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15)

The Visitation is a familiar scene to us Catholics who reflect upon it when we pray the second Joyful mystery of the Rosary. In our minds we paint the picture of Mary traversing the “hill country in haste” and coming to the door of “the house of Zechariah,” greeting her aged cousin, Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-40). Elizabeth is filled with joy at this most august visitation, as is the babe within her womb who dances as Elizabeth proclaims, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42). Elizabeth then expresses a feeling of unworthiness that Mary should visit her: “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43).

Mary’s eager willingness to share in the joys and sufferings of Elizabeth’s geriatric pregnancy vividly demonstrates a forgetfulness of self that opens the door for an authentic transfiguration of Elizabeth’s heart (cf., 2 Corinthians 3:18).

Old Testament Echoes

Reminiscent of Abraham and Sarah (Gen 16:1) and Jacob and Rachel (Gen 29:31), Zechariah and Elizabeth were unable to conceive a child. During those times, infertility was viewed as a disgrace and often blamed on the woman. Sadly, this perspective is still present today in some circles, where infertility is looked down upon. This only adds weight to an already burdensome cross an infertile woman bears as she feels betrayed by her own body and gradually fosters resentment toward it. We can imagine Elizabeth being in such an emotional state. Her fertile years long behind her; her sentiment toward her barren womb and “breasts that never nursed” (Luke 23:29) moving from resentment to reluctant resignation in her advanced years. Then, the miraculous happens. Elizabeth conceives a son. She proclaims, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others” (Lk 1:25). 

Mary learns of her cousin’s miraculous conception from the angel Gabriel. After the angel declared that she would bear the Son of God, the angel said, “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 will be impossible for God” (Lk 1:36-37). Rejoicing in this miracle, the young, pregnant Mary immediately embarks on her ninety mile solo trek to Judean hill country to visit her cousin. 

Rejoicing and Weeping

In classic Catholic both/and fashion, solidarity with others is not limited to the good times or the bad times, it demands of us to share in both, as St. Paul instructs us (cf., Rom 12:15). Mary rejoiced in the miracle bestowed upon her aged cousin and she desired to share the suffering of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. Like most mothers in their second trimester, Elizabeth would suffer with various gastrointestinal issues, edema, hot flashes, back pain, moodiness, and, with the increasing weight of John, her normal easy stride would transform into a waddle. Mary was all in. She committed herself to enter into the messiness of Elizabeth’s pregnancy: from the joy in conceiving to the distress in carrying the child for nine months.

By entering into the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary engaged in a twofold inbreaking. First, she willfully participated in Elizabeth’s pregnancy experience. Therefore, here already in her first recorded action after the Annunciation, Mary reflects our Lord’s total animation of her actions by becoming vulnerable in solidarity with her cousin. Second, carrying our Savior within her womb, Mary as Theotokos (the “God-bearer”) enacts a kind of Incarnation as her presence afforded Elizabeth and John the opportunity to bear witness to the coming of their Savior. These dynamics of multi-directional acts of self-gift denotes a veritable inbreaking of the Kingdom of God in an obscure part of the Judean hill country.

An Invitation for Self-Gift

What we see in all of this is what St. John Paul II called the economy of the gift inscribed on creation from the very beginning by its loving God. At the heart of this economy of love, according to St. John Paul II, is “entrustment.” What he meant by this is that each and every single person represents for us a “gift” that God entrusts us with. The proper reception of such a gift is a corresponding gift of self out of love. When we respond to God’s gift of love present in another person with our own gift of self in love, the late pontiff tells us, we are “drawn up into the mystery of God by the fact that [our] freedom is subjected to the law of love, and love creates interpersonal communion” (John Paul II, “A Meditation on Givenness”).

This is precisely what we witness in the Visitation.  Mary learns of Elizabeth’s pregnancy and recognizes the gift being offered to her in the persons of Elizabeth and her child. Accordingly, she responds through her own gift of self, rushing to rejoice and aid her cousin. In turn, Elizabeth reciprocates the gift of self as she rejoices in the coming of her Savior and His Mother. 

Our eagerness to share in the joys and sufferings of others expresses true vulnerability that opens us to the reception of a gift present in the other, making possible true solidarity with the other. In this we set the economy of gift in motion, for we not only bear Christ to others as Mary did to her cousin and nephew, but also invite others to reciprocate the gift of self. As we prepare for the celebration of Pentecost, let us ask the Holy Spirit, the very Gift of God’s Love poured out into our hearts (Rom. 5:5), to grant us the grace to imitate Mary by receiving all those we encounter as the gift of God which they truly are. 

Your sister in Christ,

Vanessa

A previous version of this article first appeared on Catholic Women in Business, 12-9-21.

3 thoughts on “Mary and the Economy of the Gift

  1. Vannesa,

    Your gift of Love (graces, time and effort) shared with Tony and Salvador are ripple effect of “entrustment” in publishing Fresh Image.

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