Sisters of Saint Joseph of Annecy

May 31st 2024

My dear Sisters,

We send you our love and prayers and are united with each of you on this great feast of the Visitation. Traditionally we celebrate the feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in keeping with the will 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)
In this circular we take time to look at Mary in the event of her Visitation to her cousin Elizabeth - Mary the woman of simple faith, went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was also pregnant. When Mary entered the house and called a greeting, Elizabeth felt her baby move within her. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and said, “You are the most blessed of all women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” She went on to say that her baby jumped with gladness at the sound of Mary’s voice. Elizabeth is Mary’s cousin. She is now elderly and she and her husband, Zechariah, have never been able to have children. Then Elizabeth is blessed and becomes pregnant as God has worked a miracle so that they can conceive. Their child will grow up to be John the Baptist, the person whose role in life is to prepare people for Jesus. This incident shows that even though they are not yet born, John recognises that Jesus is God’s son.
What does this event mean for us in the 21st Century and how are we to apply it to our lived experience? We live in a world of technology. Social media connects us to millions of people without having to go outside the door. Yet todays feast reminds us that while we do not choose to do away with our mobile phones, we are reminded of the importance of physical presence or physical visits.

Elizabeth had a poor reputation. Her neighbours called her a “barren woman.” So now, in her old age, God decided to bless her with a child. Elizabeth must have experienced great isolation, not having friends and being pregnant in her old age. Mary knew exactly what Elizabeth needed, and she made the journey to visit her. Elizabeth was not the one who asked Mary to come over. Mary only heard from the Angel Gabriel about Elizabeth and went to visit her immediately - a journey of over 90 miles and the visit lasted about three months. Mary was there for Elizabeth until the time John the Baptist was born. Mary did not consider that she was carrying God in her womb; she chose to serve Elizabeth because she recognised that Elizabeth needed help.

Life is a series of ups and downs. No one’s life is perfect. Virtually everyone today is going through some challenge. However, we can learn from Mary’s visit to look beyond our challenges and difficulties. Let us know how to place ourselves in the shoes of others. There are women we know who are struggling, who are lonely and isolated. How present are we to them? There may be women in my own community who are feeling isolated and lonely. If we hear something good about others, do we go and visit them? If we hear something awful, do we still visit them? The invitation is to talk to them face to face rather than talking about them to someone else.

On a deeper level, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth marked the fulfilment of the prophecy of Zephaniah. It teaches us that we serve a God who plans for hundreds of years ahead; a God who never promises and fails; a God who is not selfish – who so cares for us that He gave us His only Son so that we could be saved. The moment Mary greeted Elizabeth, John the Baptist leapt to acknowledge the presence of Jesus Christ in Mary’s womb, and Elizabeth was enveloped with the Holy Spirit. She announced that Mary would forever be honoured by humanity for accepting to be the mother of Jesus, and this prophecy is playing out even now.
When we visit one another, we convey something social media can never bring. In our time we tend to text or chat through social media, but there is nothing as beautiful as being present (body, mind and soul) for others. The challenge for us is to leave our phones down and visit someone in need of our presence today. Traditionally our Sisters have always been involved in visiting the most in need: to listen, to be at one with, to be a healing presence. Become a carrier of joy.

Mary was a young woman from Nazareth, a small town in Israel. Uneducated and with little money, she was nervous of the mission God was asking her to fulfil. Mary must have asked herself if she would be capable of such a task and if she could protect and care for Jesus. Pregnancy at any age is a challenge, but for a young woman who was not sure if she would be supported by her fiancé, or by her family, Mary’s courage to say ‘yes’ to God’s plan, was great. Any young woman who decides to carry a child amidst fear of rejection, and any young man who chooses to take on his responsibilities as a father, deserves our respect and support. It is a brave decision and a reminder that, just as God gave Mary the courage she needed, God can strengthen and guide us in the difficult situations we have to face. Mary’s ‘yes’ also shows us her virtue of generosity: by agreeing to be the mother of Jesus, Mary gave her entire life to follow God’s will.

Once Mary became pregnant, she immediately went to visit Elizabeth, her relative, who also was pregnant (Lk 1:39-45). Most of our mothers did not focus on themselves solely and their own families. Instead, they had the natural ability to reach out to other relatives and friends who were in need, just as Mary reached out to her cousin Elizabeth. Not long after that, Mary offered a magnificent prayer to God, one of the most beautiful prayers in all of Scripture, the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55). Our mothers who followed Mary’s example were deeply prayerful and spoke to God from their hearts day-by-day.

Mary knew how to listen; she knew how to be silent and to listen to what was going on in her heart. Not only was she present to the other, but she was present in a particular way. She truly listened. Silence is a must, to listen to God speaking to us. We need to embrace silence even in the way we listen to ourselves, to our own bodies as well as our hearts and minds.

So, Sisters as we celebrate this feast of the Visitation, let us spend some time in silence so that we can hear God speaking to us. Not only do we listen to God but also to others. We need silence even to listen to what our bodies are speaking to us, also our minds and hearts. And listening to one’s own self is probably the best way to prepare oneself to listen to God. Mary stands as a model for us as one who had cultivated the art of listening and is governed by a simple, calm, personal inner authority. This is how she was present to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary always stood by her truth, and she listened deeply to the voice of God within her. In these days when we can fill our minds with so much distraction from the internet, TV, and other conversations, how much space is there in our lives for silence? How do we listen to that inner voice within us and within others? A true inner listener knows the best response coming from within. Can we be an attentive presence and listener for others, beginning with myself and God?

Let us think about how we are present to other women who might need us. How do we respond to Gods plan for us? Who has God brought into my space at this particular moment who might need me? Let us look around us and see who it is that God provides us with, to inspire and encourage.

I take this opportunity to wish each of you the abundant blessings of this great feast.
May it bring us peace, joy and love,

Sr. Breda
Superior General