Sisters of Saint Joseph of Annecy

 My dear Sisters,

I take this opportunity together with my Council, to wish each of you the peace and joy of the feast of the Visitation. It has been our tradition to celebrate the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in keeping with the legacy of our Founder Fr. J P Medaille.  He says” Our dear Congregation has set aside three days of recollection to obtain from Jesus through Mary that he may visit and sanctify us by his Spirit, in our Congregation and animate us with the same zeal that animated her in this mystery” (Spiritual Directory)

This feast is an invitation to each of us to meditate on the mercy and love of God.  This year we are challenged to meditate on the feast of the Visitation in the midst of a pandemic. We are challenged to ask ourselves some new questions.  What has this virus invited us to do differently and what is Mary’s place in our hearts as we await the lifting of restrictions in our countries? Many countries have been rededicated to the protection of Mary our Mother in our time of need.  In Ireland it is their tradition to pray the Novena to our Lady of Perpetual Help.  In my own parish the Novena was held in an empty Church this year but 32,000 people logged in on line from all over the world to follow the novena and to feel the support and the mercy of God through His mother Mary.  So, what does this feast mean to us in this unusual situation in which we find ourselves? What new thing has come to life in us as we have kept the government guidelines of social distancing, where journeys are discouraged and embracing another or greeting them, is prohibited? We are invited to stop and reflect, to look within us and around us for this is the situation that the Spirit of God has provided us with in order to re interpret the feast of the Visitation.

Mary made a journey to visit Elizabeth.  We cannot make such visits at the moment but what journey have we made within ourselves since the beginning of the pandemic?  We have had to let go of so much that was familiar, our routines and practices, as we struggle to accept our new reality.  Have we had the courage to journey inwards? Yes, there are dangerous twists and turns on the journey of life through our present situation, but equally there are difficult and tough decisions that we have to make as we journey inwards and accept our reality for what it is.

Mary knows that love grows daily in the little things of life.  Looking to Mary and to all mothers’ faces, we experience and are nurtured by that sense of hope which gives birth to, and opens up, horizons for the future.  We have seen so many cases on our news briefings and newspapers of women facing incredible crosses and finding the strength to accept God’s will.  How has this sense of hope become our reality as we find ourselves grounded and unable to go out? Who are the people God has given me to reflect with and to find this sense of hope in a new future? Has our thinking changed on the way we treat our planet? Is this a wake up call for each of us in the way we have chosen to live our lives with each other and on this earth?

When Mary met Elizabeth, it was a moment in which they awakened in each other, the best of who they were.  It is a miracle brought about by the culture of encounter where no one is ignored or side-lined but are sought out because everyone is needed to reveal the face of God.  Who have we encountered in this time of pandemic?  How have the meetings of young and old changed our perspective on life?  The Holy Spirit encourages us to go out of ourselves from all that hems us in and from the familiar things to which we cling… We are invited to look at the bigger picture. The Spirit teaches us to look beyond the immediate appearances and to speak well of others – to bless them, to reach out to the homeless, to migrant workers, refugees and those who are hungry, providing a community who accepts them and does what it can to help.  We have seen this lived out in our Indian Provinces where the poorest were made even poorer by the strict government regulations.  The Sisters, whilst keeping to the restrictions, helped feed so many who would otherwise have died of starvation.  This is but one example of the culture of encounter, but it is often so much easier to accept this outside ourselves, the dear neighbour, rather than what happens closer to home within our communities.

Mary reminds us where God wishes to live and dwell. His sanctuary, the place where we can hear His heartbeat is in the midst of His people and in his great Creation.  There He is, there He lives, there He waits for us. How are we respecting the planet that we call home? Who are the people God has surrounded me with where He waits, and lives…… God is in our midst as a powerful saviour particularly at this challenging time.  Mary points us in the direction of her beloved Son.  It is the certainty of this that allows us like Mary to sing and exult for joy. When we lack joy, we become enslaved to unhappiness.  Our lack of faith is usually linked to our lack of joy.  When we live in mistrust, closed in on ourselves, we weaken our faith. Mary comes to our aid and instead of reducing things, she magnifies them in magnifying the Lord, and praises His greatness both in His creatures and in His creation.

So what is the secret of Mary’s joy even in the midst of trouble? Mary starts from Gods greatness and despite her problems, she is filled with joy.  She entrusts herself to the Lord in all things.  She reminds us that God can always work wonders if we but open our hearts to Him and to those with whom we live and come in contact.  We are called to be people, who despite our circumstances at the moment, need to believe in a future full of hope and to persevere in our difficult situations.  to take full responsibility for and protect the planet we live on. 

Mary’s journeys, encounters, and moments of rejoicing happen because she carries something greater than herself, she carries a blessing.

 On this feast of the Visitation which we are celebrating within this pandemic, let us meditate on the great mercy of God, and what He did in Mary, our Mother, what God did and is doing for all of humanity, what has been  done and is being doing in each one of us. Let us be attuned to the challenge of the planet which we have virtually destroyed because we did not read the signs of the times.

Let us like Mary and Elizabeth, be willing to share our time with one another and willing to listen and care for each other and be a source of encouragement to those with whom we find ourselves.  In this way we are truly a Visitation.

With my love and prayers at this time.  We continue to remember each other, and we encourage you to remain safe and well.

Sr. Breda