By Monica Adigwe, SHCJ
The account of the visitation to Elizabeth by the Blessed Virgin Mary is a well-known story that could easily be described as one of the best-loved stories in the bible. If for nothing at all, we are reminded of this event practically every time we sing or recite the Magnificat, the same song Mary sang when she visited her cousin, Elizabeth. Besides, we are offered the opportunity to reflect on the account every time we pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. What more could be said then about this account from the Gospel according to Luke 1 : 39 – 56 ?
There is one aspect of the visitation that I find particularly relevant to us on this occasion. It is a trait that seems to unite the two women in the account. The first to speak, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cries out in a loud voice and utters words which we could only consider prophetic: “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1 : 42). The other, Mary, responds to this word of prophecy in her song saying: “All generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1 : 48). So why does Luke at the beginning of his Gospel present us with this story and what is the point of their prophetic utterances?
A closer reading of the Gospel of Luke chapters 1 & 2 clearly indicates that the evangelist took the question of prophetic utterance seriously. Zechariah prophesies when his tongue is loosened (Lk 1 : 68 – 79). Simeon prophesies (Lk 2 : 34 – 35), and so does the prophetess Anna (Lk 2 : 38). However, one thing unites these three – all of them in one way or the other are connected to the temple. Zechariah was a priest (Lk 1 : 5); Simeon was in the temple (Lk 2 : 27); Anna never left the temple (Lk 2 : 37). The place of prophecy of Mary and Elizabeth is however quite different. It is in the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth out in the Judean countryside.
Why is this significant? It seems to be the beginning of a series of events that happen in Luke’s Gospel and in the life of the early church. The Pentecost event takes place not in the temple but in the upper room, a private household. The preaching of the faith to the gentiles begins in the household of Cornelius (Acts 10) in Joppa. And when Paul arrives for the first time in Europe, it is in the house of Lydia that the first church would gather (Acts 16 : 14 – 16). It would seem that Mary and Elizabeth, in Luke 1, have set in motion an irresistible chain of events, a firm paradigm of the proclamation of the word in the early church, which finds its matrix in the home.
I turn to the life of SHCJ founder Cornelia Connelly, a woman who best exemplifies in her life, the struggle between “temple” and “home”; the tension between the church as an institution on the one hand and the domestic church on the other. These were played out on every page/stage of her life. Cornelia did not spurn the one, but she understood the power of the other and she brought the full force of her experience of the home to bear on the Society (SHCJ) she founded. This led her to say that ‘the feast of St. Edward  was the beginning of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus. And that it (Society) was founded on a breaking heart.’ (This quotation comes from the biography by Mother Mary Francis Bellasis, written in the early part of the twentieth century and was never published: it only existed in typescript, p. 42). The church in every age needs prophetic voices, but sometimes it just matters as much that she speaks as loudly from the temple as she does from the home!