We just celebrated, on the last day of May, the Feast of the Visitation of Mary. At his audience on the last Sunday of May before the Visitation, Pope Francis announced a day of prayer for the Synod on Synodality, asking in a particular way for the intercession of Mary. He said, “Let us ask the Virgin Mary to accompany this important stage of the synod with her maternal protection.” How fitting it is to pray to Mary for the work of the synod as she is a true model of what synodality is all about.
Synodality calls for us to listen intently to others so that we can hear what they are saying. We live in a culture today in which listening is very difficult to do. There is a great deal of noise around us, coming from a digital age in which everyone is expressing an opinion and trying to influence others to follow it. So many times, people are articulating how they want to respond to someone before they even hear what the other person is saying. Listening is essential, as it is only by hearing that we respect others and ultimately are able to listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
When we first encounter Mary, it is on the occasion of a visitation. The visitation is that of the angel Gabriel, who announces to her that she was to be the Mother of the Messiah. We know that Mary does not completely understand the message of the angel, but she carefully listens to it despite the confusion of her own heart. By her acceptance of the word of God to her, the Son of God becomes incarnate in her womb and the course of human history dramatically changes. It is Mary’s listening that enables this to occur.
Having received the message from the angel, Mary immediately goes to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who is six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Mary’s visit fills Elizabeth and John the Baptist with joy by her very presence, which causes Elizabeth to cry out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). Elizabeth recognizes that Mary is the cause of joy because she listened to God and trusted in His will as she cries out, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45).
Elizabeth’s praise of Mary as the one who listened to God is very much in keeping with Jesus’ praise of Mary in the Gospels. Jesus praises His mother, not simply on the basis of her being His mother, but on the basis of her trusting in the will of God. There is an incident in the Gospel of St. Luke where she comes looking for Jesus but cannot get to Him because of the crowd. When Jesus is told of this, instead of making room for her by welcoming her first, Jesus simply says, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it” (Lk 8:21). Jesus points to the prominent place of Mary as the one who listens in order to carry out the word of God. It is that listening which makes her the first and perfect disciple. In the same Gospel, we are also told that a woman praises Mary as the Mother of the Lord. She cries out, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breast that nursed you” (Lk 11:27). But Jesus praises His mother for her listening by saying, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Lk 11:28). Similar to the praise of Elizabeth, Jesus praises Mary for her willingness to listen, especially to the word of God.
The Visitation of Mary is significant for us throughout the Gospels because, wherever Mary is mentioned, it is always while she is doing some visitation and in a very quiet and gentle manner. She is a woman who goes out in order to bring the joy of her Son to others so that they may listen to Him. After her visit to Elizabeth, Mary’s next encounter is she and Joseph leaving their home to go to Bethlehem, where Jesus is born. From there, they flee to Egypt. In the infancy narratives, we find Mary visiting the Temple to present the Lord after His birth. Later, we find her visiting Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. We find Mary visiting a wedding feast, where she encourages the Lord to perform His first miracle. We find her on these visits always in a receptive, listening manner so that the word of God can be heard, and she can be the instrument of it in her own quiet manner.
The final visits with Mary in the Gospels are most significant. Again, these are ones in which she listens in a manner that enables the Word of God to be heard. We see her at the foot of the cross in the Gospel of St. John, where Jesus entrusts her to us as our Mother. This is very significant, as before the death of the Lord He entrusted Mary to His beloved disciple, who represents the Church. She now becomes our mother, and St. John tells us that “From that hour the disciple took her into his home” (Jn 19:27). The new home with Mary is the Church, of which she is the Mother. It is from here that she will continue to visit us and listen to us in our prayers. The final mention of Mary is in the Acts of the Apostles at the great celebration of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Apostles and Mary. Mary is visiting the Upper Room with the Apostles when this great event takes place, and it is from here that the Apostles go forth from her to make their visits to all of God’s family to proclaim the Gospel of the Lord. It is interesting to note that, on the occasion of Pentecost, the crowd is able to hear the Apostles even though those in the crowd speak different languages. Nevertheless, the power of listening is very present as they understood the Apostles in their own languages.
The month of June is that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We also celebrate the Immaculate Heart of Mary during this month. Mary is one who reminds us that it is in and from the heart that we listen most deeply to the Lord. It is the heart that truly listens so that the Lord may speak. During this month of the Sacred Heart, we ask Our Lady to help us so that, as we continue to prepare for the synod, we can listen more intently to others in order to hear the word of the Lord. Silence is very much needed in our world today, and Mary is a model of silence and the listening heart. It is fitting that we pray to Our Blessed Mother for the work of the synod as she is at the heart of what listening is all about.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
June 2, 2023