Denise Bossert’s new book, Gifts of the Visitation: Nine Spiritual Encounters with Mary and Elizabeth has just been released by Ave Maria Press.
Denise’s personal story is a good read in and of itself. She’s the daughter of a Protestant minister and converted to the Catholic Church n 2005 after being inspired by the writings of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. Her syndicated column is called Catholic by Grace She also writes for Women of Grace, Women for Faith and Family, and Catholic Exchange. She’s appeared on a number of Catholic radio and television shows. You can find Denise online at denisebossert.com.
I’ve had the great pleasure of meeting Denise in person, and traveling with her through the Holy Land with the Catholic Press Association in May 2014. Knowing at the time that she was working on Gifts of the Visitation, I felt privileged to witness her visit to the Church of the Visitation, and to be a vicarious part of living in person what she had for so long lived in her heart.
So, it’s a special delight to share with you my interview with Denise about Gifts of the Visitation.
Q: Every book has an interesting back story. No doubt Gifts of the Visitation does, too. Briefly, what’s the back story? Can you tell us what that “aha” moment was like when you realized God was calling you to write this book?
A: I have been fascinated with spiritual friendship for a long time. We see it with Jonathan and David in the Old Testament. We see the dynamic of spiritual friendship between many of the great saints. The encounter that captivates me most, though, is the encounter between Elizabeth and the Blessed Mother. This was the first time that the Jesus Christ had been shared one person to another. This was the first time that the good news was taken by way of human feet, and the Gospel was received with joy by another person. This is the first Christ-centered friendship. When these truths began to resonate with me, I knew that God was calling me to write their story.
Q: In the Introduction, you wrote, “In the deepest part of the Christian soul, we know … that we are tied to the hills of Judea where Mary encountered Elizabeth. The hills of Judea became God’s first mission field; Mary, the first missionary; the Visitation, the blueprint for sharing the Gospel message.” Can you explain what you meant by that?
A: St. Louis Marie de Montfort talked about Mary as the quickest, easiest, surest way to holiness. When I studied The Visitation, I realized that she is also the quickest, easiest, and most-effective model for sharing and bearing Jesus Christ to another person. She demonstrates how to share Christ in a winsome way. She opens herself to every gift necessary for sharing and bearing the Son she carries. She received Jesus at the Annunciation and went out to share Him. We receive Him when we receive the Holy Eucharist, and we are told to go forth and share Him. To the degree that we are able to model ourselves after the blueprint she set before us in that journey to Ein Kerem – Elizabeth’s home in Judea – to that degree, we will be effective in sharing the good news with the Elizabeth in our world.
A: The gift of wonder & awe which we are given through the Sacrament of Confirmation and which is manifested so beautifully at The Visitation is my favorite gift. In the midst of our ordinariness, our littleness, and our predictable lives, God breaks through, and we are changed.
Everything is changed. A virgin conceives. An elderly barren woman conceives. God uses these two women to usher in the New Covenant. Life-changing encounters happen today. God breaks through our world even today.
I have often wondered: Did Mary and Elizabeth sit together and look at each other with the history of Israel flashing across their minds, remembering how seas parted, a donkey talked, walls of Jericho fell, fire fell from heaven, and a pillar of fire and cloud went before their ancestors in the desert? Did they then look at each other, realizing that Elizabeth’s baby was the prophet foretold in the final words of the last verses of the last chapter of the last book of the
Old Testament and Mary’s baby was the long-awaited Messiah? Did they sit there in the silence as the realization hit them … what had happened to the patriarchs and matriarchs of Salvation History was being fulfilled *in them in that very moment?*
And God visits us. The divine visitation occurs today. And the Holy Spirit fills us with that gift of wonder & awe so that we are able to take in this amazing Truth. God has come to us.
Q: You recently traveled to the Holy Land with the Catholic Press Association, and visited Ein Kerem, the site of the Visitation. What was that like for you, and how has that experience enriched your writing of the book?
A: There are no words to describe what it was like to look upon the Church of the Visitation as we stood on the top of that hill. You were there with me, Marge, and so you know it was one of those moments of wonder & awe. My eyes scanned the church and just went higher, following the line of the steeple into the Judean sky. I wept as I thought of these two women. I had studied them for about a year, and I had no idea that I would be able to see this place with my own eyes. Thanks to the Israel Ministry of Tourism, I was able to go there. It was surreal. I felt the nod of grace. This book was not something I made, that I created, that I generated. I knew it was their story. I had just been given the joy of sharing it with others. I went home after that and reworked the book and added the last chapter.
Mary and Elizabeth knew their sons were gifts, and the gifts were meant to be shared. As we stood there, we knew that we were the beneficiaries of that first sharing, that first Christ-centered
Q: What are you hoping readers will take away from your book?
A: We are all called to share the gift of Jesus Christ who comes to us, breaks through our little worlds and changes everything. We are filled up with Christ, but not so that we will grow stagnant or complacent in our “Nazareth” home, but that we will hit the road and share Him with another person. We are filled; We are sent. We are never filled to keep the gift to ourselves.
*Evangelii Nuntiandi *says it is the test of truth, that “it is unthinkable that a person should accept the Word and give himself to the kingdom without becoming a person who bears witness to it and proclaims it” (24).
*Redemptoris Missio *doubles down on this teaching. “No believer in Christ … can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples” (3).
So my prayer for this book is this: May we see Mary as our model as we share Christ & may we see The Visitation as the blueprint for how this bearing of Christ to another person can be done in a joy-filled, winsome way.
All for Jesus through Mary.
Image: Used with permission, Denise Bossert