Tomorrow’s Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth celebrates an encounter between two unlikely mothers. What richness can be found in contemplating the embrace and companionship between these two women!
Luke 1:39 recounts how immediately after learning that she was with child, Mary traveled to the home of her cousin Elizabeth, who, despite her old age, was also pregnant.
Learning about a pregnancy can bring with it a flood of far-ranging emotions, questions, and concerns that can leave one reeling; it’s not hard to justify a response of turning inward. Yet Mary set out in haste to be at the side of her kinswoman. In undertaking a difficult journey to be with another, our Blessed Mother highlights the importance of supporting and accompanying women, especially those who may be experiencing challenging or difficult circumstances.
Indeed, when considering the two women in this Gospel passage, we can recognize an unexpected pregnancy, years of enduring the pain of infertility, and a great deal of uncertainty. Countless women today face these same struggles, often alone and in fear, with no idea of where to turn for support. It is our duty to offer these—and all women—the companionship Mary and Elizabeth shared.
Motherhood (and the journey towards motherhood) presents physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, practical, and financial difficulties like no other. It carries with it utter bliss, heart-rending sorrow, and everything in between—none of which should be carried alone. In the Visitation, we see a model of how we are called to enter into the realities women face and offer support and accompaniment, especially to mothers who are most in need.
As the USCCB’s Respect Life Prayer & Action monthly prayer guide for May put it:
“In addition to ‘walking with’ mothers in love, support, and friendship, we can also help answer their needs for practical and material assistance. Inspired by our Blessed Mother, we can help connect mothers with the Church’s extensive network of social services to ensure mothers and their children obtain all the necessities of life. Through generous stewardship of the gifts God has entrusted to us of prayer, time, talent, and treasure, we can help meet the needs of mothers as they welcome and care for God’s precious gift of life.”
I invite you to celebrate this feast day by imitating the example of Mary and taking the initiative to reach out to a woman in your community.
While this may involve going a bit outside our comfort zone, each of us, no matter where we are in life, can offer this much-needed kinship. We don’t have to be in the same boat as a woman in need or know her pain or experience firsthand. We are simply called to walk alongside her, providing support, friendship, and encouragement. Accompaniment does not mean taking on or attempting to fix someone’s problems. It means a willingness to listen, to be truly present to another, to offer reassurance, closeness, and compassion.
Reaching out to a woman in your community can take many forms, from working to enact systemic change (such as advocating for paid parental leave or working to ensure access to healthcare) to just grabbing a cup of coffee with a mom you know.
Other concrete ideas for living out the spirit of the Visitation include offering to babysit, donating to or volunteering with a local pregnancy center, starting or joining a mom’s group at your parish, organizing a diaper drive, or making a meal for a family. You may consider getting involved with Walking with Moms in Need, the Church’s nationwide initiative that helps Catholics form parish teams to identify resources in their local area and connect pregnant and parenting mothers with support and services.
For a woman struggling in her fertility journey, just lending an ear, offering to accompany her to a doctor’s appointment, or putting her in touch with someone else who has been there can make a huge difference.
In every gesture of closeness, we will find ourselves enriched and accompanied in return. May we strive to emulate authentically the spirit of the Visitation, so that every woman can come to feel the profound embrace of kinship!