I love everything about the Feast of the Visitation: the graciousness of Mary going in haste to celebrate the joy of the Annunciation with her cousin Elizabeth; the gift of friendship as St. Elizabeth encourages Mary in her role as Mother of God and Mary assists Elizabeth in her final months of pregnancy.
One of my dearest friends is a convert to Catholicism from generations of Mennonites in her family. We met twelve years ago, and I discovered her Confirmation saint was the Blessed Mother, and she heard that mine was St. Elizabeth. We instantly chuckled and she said, “Maybe you are my St. Elizabeth I have been praying for.”
We are not created for isolation but for community, and the Feast of the Visitation points us toward the shared gifts of reciprocal love. When new friendships are born, we discover the seed of joy has been planted in our hearts as we share troubles and travails, giggles and gifts, hopes and heartaches. Those seeds bear the fruits of virtue when we cultivate the fertile soil of healthy and constructive ways of communicating and relating to each other.
Friendships based on shared faith grow stronger in time. Here are some ways you can deepen your relationships with friends.
Joy in Relationships
“Blessedness is attached to faith. You are blessed to have believed…You have believed; you will see. You were faithful to the promises; you will receive the reward. You have sought God in faith; you will find him in joy…The one who is blessed is as the same time excellent.”Jacques Benigne Bossuet, Meditations on Advent, 81
Mary is instantly received by her aging relative, Elizabeth. She is called “blessed.” We learn from Fr. Bossuet that blessedness bears with it the fulfillment of God’s promises. Think of the blessings in your life, everything you cherish and the people you love. There is a fullness, a satisfaction, in your heart, isn’t there? And blessedness lends itself to gratitude, which paves the way for joy.
In our friendships, we should strive for magnanimity, that sub-virtue of fortitude that asks of us to seek excellence in all things but especially that which is holy. There should be no duplicity in us, no jealousy or envy, no unforgiveness or competition — only the freedom that naturally unfolds when we open our hearts to another in companionship and shared faith.
Holy Friendships Are Sensitive Ones
“[Elizabeth] senses that it is the Lord who comes himself, but that he comes and acts by his holy Mother.”Bossuet , 82
Sensitivity is a particular gift of friendship, because it means we are attuned to another’s needs. We understand the nuances that accompany body language, intonation, and tonal inflection in our conversations. As a result, our hearts are able to speak a language with a treasured friend in which words do not suffice, and we are moved with compassion.
I’m always a bit relieved when I learn that a new friend has a special devotion to the Blessed Mother. To me, it means that she is guiding our burgeoning relationship and that, with her presence accompanying us, that friendship will grow stronger in time.
This is especially valuable to me, because I have been so deeply betrayed in past friendships. I’ve allowed myself to become emotionally transparent to those who, in turn, end up damaging my heart. And then I’m left with nothing but shame and humiliation. So holy friendships are important to me, especially when they are rooted in the blessedness of Our Lady’s influence.
Don’t Rush Time Spent With Loved Ones
“Charity must not be fleeting…Whoever bears grace should not go running about, but should allow time for grace to achieve its work.” –Bossuet, 94
Mary didn’t arrive at her cousin’s house and then immediately announce that she only had a short while to stay. She remained with Elizabeth for a long time. Those prolonged visits are what most of us crave in our Information Age of hurried frenzy. We miss the days of leisurely talks that invite us to laugh, to gaze, to sit in silence, to appreciate a sunset, to reminisce.
Friendships based on frenetic busyness are sadly superficial and leave us in the wake of more loneliness than authentic relationship. But when we can sit with another and just be together without needing to rush about and be somewhere else – that is, indeed, the true gift of charity.
There Is No Age Limit in Friendships
“The Gospel portrays Elizabeth in an extreme old age and Mary in the bloom of youth. In the age of Elizabeth we see the feebleness of the Law as it dies, and in the youth of the Blessed Virgin, the eternal newness of the Church…Eternal things do not grow old, while, on the contrary, perishable things tend ineluctably toward their end and are constantly aging.”Bossuet, Meditations on Mary, p. 42
Not long ago, after a talk I gave out of state, a middle-aged woman approached me and asked with a furrowed brow, “Do you give these talks to people primarily in your age group or to older people?” I offered a wry smile in return and answered, “Mostly to older women.”
Which got me thinking: most of my solid friends are my parents’ age.
Sounds pretty strange, but the relationship between Our Lady and St. Elizabeth was not awkward or unusual. Each benefited from what the other had to share: Mary’s youth was a reminder to Elizabeth of the vibrance and innocence of a life not yet tattered by intense suffering; and Elizabeth’s age offered the golden wisdom that only years and years of life experience can provide.
Eternal things do not grow old.