The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth in the bible is an incredible story. Directly after finding out that she had conceived the Son of the Most High, Mary was already embarking on a three months stay with Elizabeth. This life changing news did not immobilize Mary, but rather propelled her to evangelize and share the good news.
I am quite struck by Mary’s trust and strength in the Lord. Especially in regards to leaving Joseph, who stayed back in Nazareth. Imagine; being visited by an angel, carrying the Savior of the world in your womb, being engaged, and not fully understanding what God is asking of you. Now, add in the fact that Mary was separated from Joseph for these first three months. She was without the man she loved and planned to marry. No skype. No whatsapp.
Mary had faith. Incredible faith. She trusted in the Lord completely. She didn’t have the ability to confide in Joseph, she was left to wonder and ponder all that had happened in her heart. Similarly, Joseph was without his fiancee. He too was faced with the absence of Mary in the most complicated time of their relationship.
As I am in a long distance relationship, I am learning so much about love and patience. As it says in Corinthians 13:4, Love is patient. Of course, this is not always easy. There is a lot times where I resent the distance and wish time could hurry up.
All of this said, I want to learn from Mary and Joseph. They were a holy couple, even before they married. They sacrificed their time together for the sake of the Lord’s plan. They were able to accept the distance with humility and trust. It’s such a beautiful witness for me. Long distance isn’t easy. But, when we make space for the Lord in our lives; becoming a tabernacle for him, he will give us the strength to go on. God only gives us what we can handle. He gave Mary and Joseph the grace in those months. He will grant this to all couples who are asking for this too. Mary and Joseph- Pray for us!
” In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah and she entered the house of Zechari’ah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, ” Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:39-42)
What is love? This is perhaps the greatest question man can ask. It requires the honest pursuit of purpose and meaning for our lives and our relationships. Unfortunately in English, love is a noun which expresses affection for a pair of shoes, the man/woman we love and even God. We are unable to differentiate between the categories of love that exist. It’s obvious that we “love” our shoes in a different way than we love our husband/wife. This construct of the English language is extremely limiting, unlike Greek which uses four separate nouns to express different categories of love.
Love is often associated with a feeling or an emotion. It is often understood as a purely romantic or sexual desire. When I speak to high schools students about love and sex, there is some serious confusion. Most young people associate sex as the greatest expression of love. For years they were told that dating and sex go together, pleasure is the ultimate purpose of sex, and that something is wrong with them if they aren’t sexually active. This often results in men and women who live marriage-like relationships exempt from any longterm commitment or vows that support and anchor their decision to remain together. This leads to a lot of problems for our hearts and our bodies. Couples endure while the love is strong. As the feelings fade, so does the relationship.
So we’re left with a lot of ideas about love. For some love can be; sex, pleasure, chemistry, feelings, happiness, exciting or destiny. I even find myself caught up with the fairytale version of love and romance. Perhaps this is the result of the many cheezy chick flicks I watched during high school, or disney movies as a child! Though incredibly entertaining, I picked up on some false ideas of love… these ideas still have a way of getting into my head.
As I get older, and grow in my faith, the desire to understand love grows within me. Especially in the relationship with my boyfriend. Saying “I love you” requires an understanding of all that love entails. It is one thing to say those three words to him, but the actions need to follow. I want to show this love with a genuine heart and pure intentions. Love is a big deal. It does not come from hollywood movies, feelings or emotions, nice looking princes… it comes from the Cross. We’ve maybe heard this before, but it is so true. The Cross of Jesus Christ is the symbol of love. Love is not selfish. Love is sacrificial. Love endures. Love is patient. Love does not boast. Love is not rude. Love never ends ( shout out to St. Paul for helping me articulate the depths of love through the Letter to Corinthians).
The greatest love stories are found in the bible. Jesus life, death, and resurrection is the ultimate example. Healing the sick, preaching to the poor, dining with sinners and outcasts. Sinless and innocent, Jesus who is love, freely accepts death to free mankind from sin and death. It’s a love that gives. A love that is free. A love that endures. A love that is constant. A love that forgives. A love that gives life.
The life of Mary is another love story. She accepts the message from the angel which announces that she will be the mother of God. Alongside Joseph, she raises and teaches Jesus in the Jewish faith. She remains at the foot of the Cross during the crucifixion and death of her Son. In all of these instances, Mary’s love is pure. It’s a love in times of confusion. A love that provides. A love in the darkness. A love in times of injustice. A love that hopes. A love that is faithful. A love that perseveres.
Only through these stories, lives and examples of faith, do we come closer to understanding love. As I strive to grow as a Catholic woman, girlfriend, daughter, sister, auntie and friend, I hope to keep this in my mind and heart. Our love is not dependent upon our feelings. It’s not motivated by sexual desires. It’s not about self-gratification. Our love should be radical like Jesus and Mary. They loved in the moments which were incredibly dark, painful and complicated. They model what we are called to do. To actualize this love, we need the heart of Jesus himself. We definitely can’t do that on our own. Goodness me, I have trouble loving the person who cuts me off in traffic. It’s only by his grace that we can come nearer to this kind of love.
“May the Heart of Jesus Christ be our School! Let us make our abode there. Let us study its movements and attempt to conform ours to them. Yes, O Divine Jesus, I want to live there” – St. Claude de Colombiere
When working with students, one has the opportunity to hear a variety of wonderful, hilarious, insightful, ridiculous and memorable comments. At any given moment, you may find yourself listening to profound sentiments, deep existential questions, impossible scenarios, or unrelated off topic stories… there is never a dull moment. To burst out laughing in the middle of class, to stand dumbfounded by a comment, to be impressed by a thoughtful question, to be challenged, to be amazed. This is what students can do! What a gift it is to spend time with these hopeful, determined, bright and beautiful young people.
As part of my job, I give presentations to a variety of students from grade 6-8 on chastity education ( see previous blog post for more information). In the grade 8 presentation, we speak about dating. It is the goal to have students thinking about dating; it’s purpose, negative/positive motivation for dating, setting boundaries, qualities of a dating partner etc. At one point we ask the students make up a dating list. They must brainstorm the top 10 qualities of a dating partner. Now, some of the lists state that: he/she “must cook well” or ” has to have good hair” or “find my jokes funny” or ” like cats”. So, after getting a few of those down, I try to encourage some deeper reflection! Those authentic, genuine qualities that they desire in their boyfriend/girlfriend. I would definitely say the top qualities are the following:
- Fun to be around
Each time I do this activity with students, I’m so impressed by their maturity and ability to consider imperative qualities/behaviours of a dating partner. After some thoughtful consideration, most young guys and girls are able to list off 7-10 solid qualities they desire. They know how they want to be treated, because deep down they all yearn for this kind of attention, behavior and respect. Ultimately, these qualities are rooted in love. When a person loves another, they are going to do their best to remain honest, respectful, faithful, loving/caring and fun to be around.
As humans, we desire to be loved. We want to love and receive love. It’s simple. We might deny this, avoid this, embrace this, or exaggerate this, but it is true. Now, this desire for love manifests itself in the 5 qualities I’ve already outlined. Within each of these qualities we find an ultimate good. You would be hard pressed to find someone who thinks this list is bogus. These are good things. These are loving behaviors.
When we speak of goodness and love, we can look to the source of these things: God. In 1 John 4:16 we read, “… So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him”. Therefore, all ways of giving and receiving, understanding and contemplating love should ultimately lead us to God.
If God is love, and we desire to love (as we’ve seen in our qualities), then we really are abiding in God. As a result, God comes to abide and dwell within us. So, when listing their qualities of a dating partner, these students are actually identifying the ultimate good and loving qualities of a God who is love.For God is honest. God is respectful. God is faithful. God is caring. God is fun to be around. These students have a desire for a girlfriend/boyfriend who is honest, respectful, faithful, caring and fun to be around, because these qualities are who GOD IS. Their hearts are naturally directed to qualities of love: God. It’s incredible!
Now, this is not just the grade 8 students who do this. Each one of us, when we desire these qualities in another person, are ultimately seeking God’s love. We want these things because they are good and they are what God wants to give to us. Naturally, our hearts are oriented to God, and we realize who God is through the good qualities of one another. If we look to scriptures and become saturated in the Tradition of the Church, we will see that God is truly love. Through creation, speaking to the prophets, revealing himself to mankind, sending his Son to redeem the world, giving us his Holy Spirit, pouring out his Body and Blood in the Eucharist, building up the Church… the list goes on and on!
Here is a beautiful excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church to eloquently summarize the power and magnitude of this God, who is love.
“But St John goes even further when he affirms that ‘ God is love’. God’s very being is love. By sending his only Son and the Spirit of Love in the fullness of time, God has revealed his innermost secret: God himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he has destined us to share in that exchange” (#221).
I’m thankful to those grade 8 students, who in completing this activity, have helped me to contemplate the deeper motives of our hearts. The desire to love another, is ultimately rooted in the desire for God’s love. To be loved by God, and to love him in return.