“As Evangelical Protestants, we rarely spoke of Mary, and we avoided the story of the Visitation completely. And yet, Mary is the perfect model of evangelization. She shared Jesus Christ first, and she shared Him fully. Everything we need to know about sharing Christ is embedded in Mary’s story.” — Denise Bossert, Catholic author and convert
The daughter and former wife of Protestant ministers, Denise Bossert converted to Catholicism in 2005 after being inspired by the books of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. Her new book, The Gift of the Visitation, bears some of the fruit of her passion for Catholicism, and especially for the biblical figures of Mary (mother of God) and Elizabeth (Mary’s cousin).
In this original interview, Bossert shares more about the women that inspired her conversion, and why they’re so instructive for our spiritual lives. (Read an excerpt from the book and more conversation here.)
First of all, for those of us who may not know what “the Visitation” refers to, fill us in!
The Visitation is the term used to describe the three-month encounter between the Blessed Virgin Mary and her relative Elizabeth. After the Annunciation, Mary decided to travel 80 miles to see Elizabeth in order to share the good news with her elderly cousin who was pregnant with St. John the Baptist. The Visitation is the blueprint for sharing Jesus Christ with others. This was the first missionary trip, the hills of Judea were the first missionary venue, and Elizabeth was the first to receive Jesus by way of another human being.
The term Visitation also refers to a divine visitation, that is, God visiting Mary and Elizabeth. God showed up when these two women came together for His glory, and He continues to show up every time two or three are gathered in His name. We can experience a divine visitation even today.
I came to the Church with a bias against all things Mary. My father was a Protestant minister, my family descendants of French Huguenots and English Protestants. My great-great grandmother was a Quaker minister. We were largely anti-Catholic. When my father passed away, I discovered the writings of Carmelite saints and that paved the way for a friendship with a Third Order Carmelite and a desire to learn more about the Catholic Church.
When I was in RCIA class and we studied the teaching on the Immaculate Conception, I almost abandoned the journey into the Church. But I placed a petition before Mary to show me that she is my mother and the Immaculate Conception. That petition was practically impossible, and yet the Blessed Virgin Mary answered my petition precisely as I requested through the assistance of this Third Order Carmelite, Mary Beth Kremski. Mary Beth had no idea what I had asked of Mary. In fact, she lives in Scranton, PA. I live near St. Louis, MO, and yet, Mary used a woman I had never met to open the door for a divine visitation and prove to me that what the Catholic Church teaches is true. In the ten years since my conversion, Mary has become my mother and my favorite subject matter. Like Elizabeth, I find myself saying, who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? And yet, she has.
Why is this visit of such importance to you, as a Catholic and Christian? Was there something missing from your former Evangelical Protestant faith that you found in the lives of Mary and Elizabeth?
As Evangelical Protestants, we rarely spoke of Mary, and we avoided the story of the Visitation completely. And yet, Mary is the perfect model of evangelization. She shared Jesus Christ first, and she shared Him fully. Everything we need to know about sharing Christ is embedded in Mary’s story. The Visitation is the most perfect expression of that sharing. So many gifts are on display here: courage, joy, wonder & awe, thanksgiving. If your heart burns to share the good news of Jesus Christ and His Church, this is a good place to start.
What are the nine spiritual encounters you highlight in your book, and in sum, what do they point us toward in our spiritual lives?
Spontaneity, courage, joy, readiness, humility, adventure, hospitality, wonder and awe, and thanksgiving—these are the gifts we see at play when we look at The Visitation. Quite simply, the Visitation is the key to sharing Christ with the world right now, in our families, places of employment, schools, communities, and parishes. If we open our hearts fully to God’s presence, if we are willing to say yes to him completely, if we are ready to embrace these nine gifts—the very gifts which Mary and Elizabeth embraced—then we will also share Christ with the world. Christ will come to us and be born anew in our own circle of influence. These gifts make way for a divine visitation. That is exciting!
Can you share just a few practical examples from some of the ‘gifts’ you mention? What is an embodied practice of ‘a spirit of spontaneity’ we might try, for instance, or ‘a spirit of joy’?
We open the door to these gifts when we begin to ask ourselves some important questions. Each chapter concludes with reflections such as these:
Spontaneity: What is God saying to you? Is there something he has spoken into your heart, something he wants you to embrace? Has he come to you in a personal way and invited you to make a decision of your own that scares you a little, that might change everything, that might take you out of your comfort zone? Is it time to leave the comfort of your “Nazareth” and say yes to something God is calling you to do?
Joy: Do you try to make one act of shared joy a part of what you do every day? When joy seems to elude you, do you call upon the Holy Spirit to fill you with joy as he did the Blessed Mother and St. Elizabeth? Do you focus excessively on the experiences in life that mute or even snuff out joy? Where in your daily prayer life can you add that simple invitation: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill me with a spirit of joy”?
You speak of “the feminine dimension of the Church.” What does that mean to you? Will this book appeal to men as well as women?
This book is for everyone who longs to share Jesus Christ and His Church but just isn’t sure how to get started. It is all about sharing and bearing Christ. That mission is not just for women, but it does have a feminine dimension. It is like being “pregnant” with the Truth of the Gospel. Like Mary, our feet have to tingle with zeal to go out and tell another person about Our Eucharistic Lord. We begin to feel the compelling desire to share Christ. That is the feminine dimension of the Church.
What are the most challenging of the gifts to embrace, in your experience? Which gift do you struggle most to accept in your own life?
Some gifts are ours by DNA. To some degree, I already have the gifts of spontaneity and joy, thanksgiving and a spirit of readiness and adventure.
Other gifts come to me by way of my Confirmation and the Holy Spirit. At Confirmation, we received the gifts of courage and wonder & awe. We have only to activate those gifts—ask the Holy Spirit to manifest them in our lives. They are already at our disposal.
Then there are gifts that are not ours by way of DNA. They come to us in a supernatural way. We hit our knees and beg God for more of these gifts.
For me, the gifts that are not part of my natural make-up but come to me by way of God’s good grace are humility and hospitality. It is important to remember, that whether by DNA, by Confirmation, or by a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit, every gift is a gift from God. They all come from Him and are meant to be used for His glory.
How might one use this book in their faith journey? What do you most hope readers take away from your book?
I pray that this book will help many people to begin sharing Jesus Christ in a winsome way. I pray that we will become like Mary and make a way for a divine visitatio
In Evangelii Nuntiandi , we read, “Here lies the test of truth, the touchstone of evangelization: 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 in his turn” (24). In his 1990 encyclical Redemptoris Missio, Saint John Paul II lays it on the line, saying, “No believer in Christ… can avoid this supreme duty: to proclaim Christ to all peoples” ( 3 ).
That can seem like a tall order. Many Catholics don’t know where to begin to fulfill this “supreme duty.” The easiest, surest, most-effective place to begin … is Mary. Journey with her from the Annunciation to the Visitation and learn how to share Christ in a winsome way. She is the perfect place to start.
Read an excerpt and more from Gifts of the Visitation at the Patheos Book Club here.