The Greatness of the Small: On the Feast of the Visitation

[After a long hiatus, here's a "From the Chairman" blog for Mass. Citizens for Life.]

 Giotto, "The Visitation," 1306, Scrovegni Chapel.

Giotto, "The Visitation," 1306, Scrovegni Chapel.

 

Catholics celebrated the Feast of the Visitation yesterday, the newly pregnant Mary arising in haste to make for the hill country around Jerusalem in order to take care of her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth, six months pregnant with John the Baptist (Luke 1:39-56).

What we have before us is one of the grandest pro-life tableaux: two pregnant women with their unborn children at the center of God the Father’s decisive breaking into history to realize His good purposes for the world. The radiation of the gallant love of the Father through the Holy Spirit warms this scene of song and dance. Embryonic Jesus, through His mother, causes John to leap in the womb; Elizabeth is inspired to utter beatitudes; Mary sings. The public reality is moved by the hidden and small. 

What Mary sings is the Magnificat: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on His lowly servant.” 

Those first words in the Greek (megalynei hē psychē) might seem familiar, putting one in mind of Aristotle’s crowning virtue: megalopsychia, or magnanimity—greatness of mind, heart, spirit. Those who are magnanimous do bold things for the common good, but are also patient when slighted. If someone cuts you off in traffic, to be magnanimous is to be unperturbed because nuisances do not disturb the truly great: nobility, not meanness. 

The radical reorientation that Mary performs in her song reveals that magnanimity is rooted in humility, in smallness before the priority, the initiative, the grandeur of God. Because of her humility, her being grateful to be a bondswoman of God, praising God in gratitude for His goodness, I say because of her very smallness, Mary can be filled with the greatness of God: “All generations will call me blessed. The Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name.”

We pro-lifers can draw from the same reality. We would do great things for God; we would change hearts, change a culture, make a nation more hospitable to each human life. But we can only do this great and glorious thing by being as small as the hidden children we serve and the mothers in crisis who are crushed in spirit, desperately awaiting the visitation of a hidden but good God. When we decrease, divine goodness increases in the world, and greatness comes upon us.