As my birthday approaches, and with it my sixtieth year of life, reality has been tapping me on the shoulder and whispering, “You have more years behind you than those which are to come.” This message could tempt me to despair. It could make me anxious. It could invade my peace with thoughts like, “I am running out of time to do anything extraordinary with my life!”
Thankfully, we have the “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) in our Communion of Saints who show that God can transform our ordinary into his extraordinary at any age. We have young saints like Jacinta who was only seven when the Blessed Mother appeared to her at Fatima. We have old saints like Elizabeth who became the mother of St. John the Baptist in her advanced age. Considering my current state in life, it is the witness of St. Elizabeth I have been pondering lately.
St. Luke’s Gospel writes of the advent of the long-hoped for Messiah by first telling Elizabeth’s story…
In the days of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah of the priestly division of Abijah; his wife was from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both were righteous in the eyes of God, observing all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blamelessly. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren and both were advanced in years. (Luke 1:5-7)
Like the long liturgical time that precedes the Church’s season of Advent, Elizabeth’s story is marked by its ordinariness. Of all the pivotal players at God’s incarnation which include Mary, Joseph and Zechariah, Elizabeth is the only one who did not get a visit by an angel. Her barrenness and old age would seem to disqualify her from producing anything of worth; yet it was the Lord Jesus who said of Elizabeth’s son, I tell you, among those born of women, no one is greater than John (Luke 7:28).
And what did Elizabeth really do? Surely becoming pregnant at an old age is unusual, but not unprecedented. When Sarah gave birth to Isaac, she was in her nineties (Genesis 17:17). Elizabeth did what is ordinary for a woman; she bore life into the world.
St. John the Baptist is the Lord’s immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way. “Prophet of the Most High,” John surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last. He inaugurates the Gospel, already from his mother’s womb welcomes the coming of Christ, and rejoices in being “the friend of the bridegroom,” whom he points out as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Going before Jesus “in the spirit and power of Elijah,” John bears witness to Christ in his preaching, by his Baptism of conversion, and through his martyrdom. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 523)
To which I symbolically drop the mic exclaiming, “…and his mother is Elizabeth!”
There are two messages we can learn from the example of St. Elizabeth.
Firstly, God views humanity differently than we see ourselves.
To God, Elizabeth was not barren, she was patient. We read that along with her husband, she was righteous in his eyes and obedient to his law. Unlike her husband, she was not struck mute due to a failure to believe (Luke 1:20). Despite her lack, she remained full of faith. In fact, God respected her so much that it was to St. Elizabeth he gave the honor of announcing to the world that the Son of God does indeed dwell among us.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said,
Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. (Luke 1:41-45)
Secondly, God chooses us to play our part in his mission.
We each have our role to play in God’s Salvation Story. He is the hero. He is the protagonist, but he shares through grace all that each of us needs to join in his story, his mission. He states in the Gospel according to John 17:20-23:
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.
St. Elizabeth answered blamelessly to God’s call for her by fulfilling her vocation to womanhood. She did so in many ways:
- Through physical motherhood by giving birth to St. John the Baptist
- Through the fertility of her will by remaining open to God’s plan for her
- Through her spiritual fecundity in praising God with such boldness it sparked the Mother of God to proclaim:
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is from age to age
to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm,
dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones
but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things;
the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant,
remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever. (Luke 1:46-55)
Let us follow the example of St. Elizabeth to:
- Be docile to God’s will and timing however long it takes
- Remain steadfast in faith in him no matter what
- Praise God and encourage others always
- Welcome all who come to us in haste, whether holier than us or not
- Put our life and vocation in God’s hands, confident he will be the one to exalt us
…so that others will follow us!
Nan Balfour is a grateful Catholic whose greatest desire is to make our Lord Jesus more loved. She seeks to accomplish this through her vocation to womanhood, marriage, motherhood and as a writer, speaker and events coordinator for Pilgrim Center of Hope.
Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.