Communication is how we build a relationship with anyone, even with God. It is during prayer that we commune with and come to know the Triune God. Prayer is a vital aspect of being an Elizabeth Minister. If we are to follow the example of Elizabeth and Zechariah, we will be a people of prayer.
Have you ever wondered how Elizabeth recognized Jesus within the womb of Mary at the time of the Visitation? One explanation is that Elizabeth had been ostracized by her community for being barren, so the only ones she could communicate with would be her husband, Zechariah, and God! This led her into an intimate relationship with her Creator. Elizabeth was a woman of deep prayer who knew God, so she recognized Him in the womb of her Kinswoman, Mary.
The more we pray, the closer we will become with God. We are challenged by Elizabeth to become so close to God that we can recognize Him in others too. Jesus told us whatever we do for the least, we do for Him. Do we recognize Jesus in all the people we meet each day? It is through prayer and service that we will grow in our relationship to God.
Prayer is not just us telling God our perspectives, but listening closely for God to reveal His ways to us. Elizabeth’s husband, Zechariah, was a high priest. It was during his special time of prayer in the temple that God sent the Angel Gabriel to him with the news of an impending conception for his old, barren wife. He did not believe what he was told by the Angel Gabriel during his time of prayer and so God lovingly took away his ability to speak. This forced Zechariah to become more of a listener! As an important man in his community, he was surely used to proclaiming his thoughts. His time of muteness gave him an opportunity to grow in humility and pay attention to others. Zechariah provides us with a reminder to listen and hear what God may be telling us during times of prayer or through other people.
In following the example of the Visitation Mystery, we also encounter Mary and Joseph. They too, were people of great prayer. In the Annunciation, we can only imagine how amazed Mary must have been when the Angel Gabriel appeared and spoke to her. We do know that she was scared, for the angel tells her not to be afraid. Then the angel gives her an amazing gift to calm her fears and give her the grace to agree to God’s plan for her life. What is that gift? It is the gift of another person who will understand! The Angel Gabriel told her about Elizabeth being pregnant in her old age, for nothing is impossible with God! To really understand, we need to reflect on the cultural situation at the time of
the Annunciation. At that time, if a woman was pregnant and not married, she would be stoned to death. Mary and Joseph were betrothed, not married. When the angel told Mary not to be afraid, it was because she feared being stoned to death!
Mary probably had heard of Elizabeth, but would not have met her. You see, Elizabeth was barren and the culture at that time thought it was a punishment from God. She would not have been allowed to go to the well to draw water with the other women or wash clothes in the river with them. They feared it could be contagious or punishment would come from God if they interacted with her. She would have lived a very isolated life.
Mary also knew that in those days, if a woman could not have children, it was custom for the husband to leave her on the side of the road to die a very slow and painful death. Mary most likely had heard that Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband, had defended her dignity and did not leave her to die. He had gone counter-cultural to lovingly protect her. So, for Mary the story of Elizabeth gave her confidence that Joseph would follow the example of Zechariah and not have her killed.
Elizabeth was advanced in age and beyond childbearing years. This information helped Mary too. Since she and Joseph had not been intimate, Mary had been confused by how she could be pregnant. The angel’s story of Elizabeth being pregnant in her old age helped her accept the idea that nothing is impossible with God and she could believe in the ability to become pregnant with the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.
Scripture says Mary “went with haste” to see Elizabeth after the message from the angel. Mary believed in God and had the most intimate of all relationships with Jesus growing in her womb, but she still needed to be in community with others. Elizabeth Ministry is based on being that “gift of being the one who will understand” and so we witness and mentor others who are experiencing something we once did. The goal is to help others develop a stronger personal and communal experience of a God that loves them.
We are called to have both a personal and communal relationship with the Triune God. Faith in God is more than an intellectual activity or practice of various rituals. Faith is “first of all a personal adherence of man to God,” the act through which one “freely commits himself to God,” the mystery through which we live out “a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 150, 1814, 2558). Growing in this relationship with God should radically change us. We are to totally surrender ourselves in relationship to the Living God.
As we reflect on Joseph in the Visitation Mystery, we see that he did surrender himself in relationship to the Living God. He must have been heartbroken when he learned that Mary was pregnant, for he knew they had not been sexually intimate and so would have assumed she had committed adultery. He would have known that under Mosaic law adultery was punishable with death by stoning. Scripture says that Joseph was a righteous man, and did not want to publicly humiliate Mary or have her killed for what he believed to be her transgression. He resolved to separate from her quietly and save her life. However, an angel appeared to him in a dream and told him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because the baby in her womb was not conceived with another man, but through the will of God. Joseph believed and proceeded with their marriage plans.
It would have been customary in those days for Joseph to have accompanied Mary in her travels to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. Can you imagine what a blessing it was for Joseph to recognize how he was following in the steps of Zechariah in going counter-cultural to defend the dignity of their spouses? Can you just imagine the power of having Zechariah listen and understand while Joseph poured out his heart to him? Elizabeth Ministry is not just a woman-to-woman ministry. It also follows the example of Zechariah and Joseph as men are called upon to encourage one another to follow God’s plan.
These four people in the Visitation Mystery invite and challenge us to build an intimate relationship with God through prayer and community connections. We are called into a familial intimacy and deep friendship with a God who “has a name and calls us by name … he is a Person, and he seeks the person, he has a face and he seeks our face. He has a heart and he seeks our heart” (Joseph Ratzinger, The God of Jesus Christ: Meditations on the Triune God, 24).
We are called as individuals and as a community to truly believe and relate to God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father and Son are a complementary relationship, a unity of identity by a complete gift of self, one to the other, an act of selfless love, expressed as another person, called the Holy Spirit. By their interaction among themselves, they constantly express and live the truth and goodness of their being God. We are made in the image and likeness of this Triune God. Thus, in loving one another, we better come into relationship with self, God, and others. We were created to be their adopted children. We must love one another as God loves us.
Note: A Parish Elizabeth Ministry Chapter may offer support for growing in your spiritual life, as well as offerings in your parish, but if you are seeking more than is offered locally, Elizabeth Ministry International offers consultations, mentors, resources, referrals, retreats, and speaker presentations. Contact us for more information!