Last year, on the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I left to enter the convent. On this feast, we celebrate Mary traveling to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Where she was able to speak of the working of the Lord in her life with someone who had experienced miracles of her own. Elizabeth wasn’t bearing the Son of God, but she who was barren was now pregnant. Elizabeth knew what it was like to have her life changed by an encounter with God and so did Mary. The three months that Mary spent with Elizabeth were, I’m sure, filled with sharing of hearts and experiences of the Lord, as well as of practical tips for bearing and raising children.
In a way I was modeling after Mary in my journey to the convent. I had a very real experience of the Lord and I gave Him my all. I gave my own fiat just like Mary did when she accepted the Lord into her womb, I just accepted Him into my life instead. And then He called me to go and so I “set out and travelled to the hill country in haste.” (Luke 1:39)
When I arrived I encountered 38 Elizabeth’s. 38 women who had encountered the Lord in a similar but different way than myself, who had experience following Him, and loving Him. They not only had experience of Him but also of living life according to His will. Just like Elizabeth, they took me into their home. We spoke of the Lord and lived ordinary life together, just like Elizabeth and Mary did. They showed me how they lived for the Lord and I followed their lead.
And then, just like Mary, it came time for me to leave. For Mary it was after only three months, for me it was eight. Elizabeth was called to live a certain way. She was called to bear John and raise him up to be a fore bearer for Christ. She was called to be a humble and little witness hidden away in Judah as a wife to Zechariah. In a way this is a good way to describe the life of the sisters. They have a beautiful mission. They are called to be little, to live as spouses of the Lord, and to love the people He places in their lives as mother, wherever He calls them to live. Their life seems ordinary, some of them do laundry as their daily assignment others do more ministry. Regardless of their assignment, they are called to be the spouse of Christ and witness to the people around them.
Mary was called to live differently. But both women were called by God to a mission. Mary had a mission that would take her out of Judah, it would take her out of Nazareth even. In the same way, my mission has continued to call me to different locations and away from the places I have learned to call home.
Mary learned, I’m sure, how to be a better faithful woman while visiting Elizabeth. During her three months, the Lord was growing in her womb. He was taking deeper root in her body and through that physical growth, I’m sure her heart was expanding as well to love Him more deeply. In those three months, Mary was being taken care of and prepared for the rest of her pregnancy and then the eventual birth and mothering of Jesus, for the mission not only of being the mother of Jesus but the mother of the Church. Without those three months with Elizabeth, who knows how Mary would have felt about her life as the mother of God. I am sure that those months of being able to completely share her heart with someone who understood the Lord deeply changed Mary.
My personal Elizabeths helped me to be open to letting the Lord take root in my life physically through making time for the sacraments and prayer. They also taught me what it meant to make room in my heart for the Lord, to pray unceasingly whether I am at work or at rest. During my eight months in “Judah,” I was taken care of and taught what it means to be a spiritual mother, just like Mary was taught what it meant to be a physical mother. She grew in her identity as the Mother of God, I grew in my identity as a daughter of the Father. My Elizabeths showed me that ordinary life is just as much a mission from God as the crazy big events. I was taken in to then be sent out. My mission may be different than the sisters, just like Elizabeth’s mission was different than Mary’s but that doesn’t mean either mission is less important or less needed than the other.
My time in “Judah” with my Elizabeths was to prepare me for the mission that the Lord is calling me to. I will continue to say yes to the Lord every day because I learned from the best what it looks like to follow the Lord. And while we won’t be in the same place, we’ll always have the time we spent together to look back on and find solace in. Just like, I’m sure, Mary looked back fondly on those three months in Judah.