Recently, I celebrated my graduation from my PhD program. As I stood in line of the academic procession, waiting for the moment to cross the stage when my name was called, I caught the eye of a former professor who was standing near me. Without saying a word, this professor reached out her hand and clasped mine, and smiled so proudly at me. Just a few years before, I encountered this smile in my professor’s office as I confided in her about my anxiety about my future, my career plans, and my relationships. My professor had listened patiently as I told her about a challenging situation I was going through, offering words of wisdom and encouragement. Since that day, my professor continued to accompany me. She often became the person I sought out for advice or guidance, always eager to draw on her own experience as a doctoral student, Catholic, and woman to help me find the next step on my path.
I could not help but imagine that, on the day of my graduation as she stretched out her hands towards me, my professor remembered just how much anxiety, worry, and fear I had to navigate to get to that day. Unlike many others who just saw fancy academic regalia and a large diploma, my professor had seen the challenges that I went through that others did not understand. As she gripped my hand and smiled, my professor remembered my journey and knew the deep meaning of it. She had been with me on the journey as my professor. She was able to offer wisdom to me because she had also been on the journey herself.
Today’s feast is the Feast of the Visitation, which I believe invites us to contemplate those who have been on the journeys of our lives with us, who understand so much more than others who just perceive our lives at surface level. In other words, the Feast of the Visitation calls us to consider those who live in solidarity with us, walking with us and helping us to consider the work of God in our lives.
In today’s Gospel, we see the excitement of Elizabeth and the infant, John the Baptist, in her womb as Mary greets them. Though the words of the Gospel do not reveal all the details about Mary’s and Elizabeth’s conversations with one another, I like to imagine and fill in the gaps. Both women might have shared their stories with one another about their encounters with angels and miraculous pregnancies. Imagine the laughter, sighs of relief, and the words ”You, too?!” exchanged with one another in the telling of their stories. Think of what their conversations sounded like: posing questions to one another, offering insights, and asking, “What could this mean for us?” Consider what emotions both women might have felt when they recognized they weren’t isolated in their experience any longer. Though Mary had Joseph and Elizabeth had Zechariah, imagine what it must have been like to feel seen and understood by another who had also been through such a unique and particular experience.
The Feast of the Visitation reminds us of a great truth that Pope Francis himself often makes reference to: that in the Christian life, we are never meant to be isolated. We are meant to be seen, known, understood, and accompanied. In Fratelli Tutti, the pope writes, “Once more we realiz[e] that no one is saved alone; we can only be saved together.” In Mary’s and Elizabeth’s case, the two women considered the mystery of what happened to them together. They were able to consider the meaning of each other’s story in a profound way because of their own separate experiences. In the moment I shared with my former professor on my graduation day, I was reminded of someone who walked with me during my years in my doctoral program, and shared solidarity with me in the struggles I navigated. Without the accompaniment of my professor, my journey would have felt isolating, with no one to share questions, experiences, and “You, too?!” with.
The Visitation invites us to consider those who walk with us and bear witness to significant moments in our lives. Who is with you on your journey? Who has made you feel seen, known, and accompanied, and how are you called to be with others on their journeys?