I knew the reasons for such devotion, the rightness of it, even the necessity for it. My parents prayed the rosary with us almost nightly, and my father’s visceral, Irish faith was never more obvious than when he spoke of “Our Mother”. But as I entered adulthood, I found that my delight in my faith centered around the intellectual – discussions of doctrine, reading and analysis of catechetical works. Aquinas and Bible study excited me; the secrets of Fatima and Louis de Montfort left me cold. I let regular recitation of the Rosary slip, turning instead to the Divine Office and the prayers of Saint Thomas Aquinas.
And yet, I could never completely eliminate her. Whenever I received a prayer request, I found myself turning without doubt to the Memorare. When we passed emergency vehicles on the road, or heard a siren, my children and I would say a Hail Mary. Since she is a perfect mirror of her Son, it’s not surprising that Mary’s care of me was so little dependent on my attention to her.
So when my husband brought home a copy of Denise Bossert’s new book, Gifts of the Visitation: Nine Spiritual Encounters with Mary and Elizabeth, I was both wary and pleased. Wary, because so many “spiritual encounters with Mary” had ended up being opaque to me, but pleased because I am always in such need of bettering my understanding of and relationship with the Mother of God.
The book examines nine gifts that both Mary and her cousin Elizabeth experienced in their encounter and in the months leading up to the birth of their sons. Mrs. Bossert fleshes out each gift, and expands on its meaning by weaving through each chapter the story of her own conversion, and her journey to Mary. It’s a beautiful and inspiring story, and ends up as the perfect backdrop for the reflections on the Visitation. Some of the gifts she examines are only to be expected, but others took me by surprise and allowed me to see this brief episode in Scripture in a previously unconsidered light.
For example, I don’t think it had ever occurred to me to think of Our Lady as sharing with her elderly cousin a spirit of adventure. But what better way to describe what would be necessary for both a very young and very old woman facing their first pregnancies together…and with full awareness of the impossibly difficult, impossibly glorious roads their sons would walk. And while I have long been well aware of all the things I don’t share with the Blessed Mother, I had never considered that the spirit of adventure that God in His goodness forced upon me (eight beautiful children in 14 years of marriage…and seven of them boys. Might as well be the definition of adventure!) was something that she knew well and shared.
While it is lovely to consider what I have in common with Mary, it is also so good to be reminded of what I need to work on. I could certainly work on fostering more of all the spirits outlined in this book, none pricked my conscience so much as the spirit of hospitality. Having grown up with mostly sisters, I was blissfully unaware of the shocking amount of destruction that a herd of small boys is capable of. And when every knock at the door could be the national guard telling me that the governor had declared our house a disaster area, and could we please relocate to the tents that FEMA was currently setting up in our backyard, the idea of actually inviting that knock was something my pride and self esteem dismissed immediately. And yet, really, what an easy thing to work on! “Conform your life to that of the only sinless woman ever to have existed” is daunting indeed….” Try to open your home to your fellow man more regularly,” well, that’s daunting too, but at least I know how to begin.
I think my favorite part of this book, though, was the beautiful reflection on the spirit of thanksgiving with which Mrs. Bossert concludes. I’m not often brought to tears by something I’m reading, but that last chapter did it. Without giving everything away, let me just say that it was the combination of considering the Eucharist, the Blessed Mother as tabernacle, and a beautiful examination of the Magnificat and the canticle of Zechariah. Those prayers are always one of my favorite parts of the Divine Office, and her treatment of them is moving and lovely.
This book is well worth your time, and – a blessing to the busy mother – will not require much of it. It’s a quick, easy read; whether you devour it over a couple sittings or, as the author recommends, spread it out into a prayerful novena. Who knows, maybe you – like I did – will find yourself seeing something so familiar in a new, and very dear light.
In the tender compassion of our God,
The dawn from on high will break upon us,
To shine on those in darkness and the shadow of death
And to guide our feet in the way of peace.
(For additional information and reflections on Mrs. Bossert’s book, please consider visiting this month’s Patheos Book Club.)
Attribution(s): “The Visitation” by Fra Angelico (Image, Info) is licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons; “The Visitation” by Rembrandt van Rijn (Image, Info) is licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons; “The Visitation” by Mariotto Albertinelli (Image, Info) is licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons; Cover Art of Denise Bossert’s Gifts of the Visitation is the property of Ave Maria Press and is for editorial purposes only.