BY Paulist Father James DiLuzio to accompany Luke Live! ONLINE
The Annunciation and Visitation segments of Luke’s Gospel highlight a number of universal human experiences beyond the specifics of the Incarnation—God as the person of Jesus. Foremost is the announcement of conception—that moment when women share the news that they have a child to bring into the world. Echoing many wonderful moments in the Jewish scriptures TANAKH (which Christians call the “First Testament”), this moment shared between Mary and Elizabeth known as “The Visitation,” engages listeners in a timeless celebration of life and hope. At the same time, it acknowledges human vulnerability. For amidst the joy there is also trepidation as Elizabeth is pregnant in old age and Mary is pregnant out of wedlock. Because Elizabeth is so advanced in years, she has to “go into seclusion” to care for and nurture her baby in utero. That little phrase “go into seclusion” is a powerful reminder that even though God may answer our prayers, we must do our part to honor the blessings we receive. Mary, too, will have to take responsibility for the gift of a child because of her youth and unwed status. Indeed, both women would have been subject to public scrutiny, judgments and condemnations just as goodness, beauty, even life itself often become objects of ridicule and derision for those rooted in resentments or caught in webs of despair, chains of anxiety, fear or suffering.
Another spiritual message: God enters into human history. These Gospel events and many like them affirm that human life has a purpose beyond mere survival. God enters into history by endowing each and every individual with the gift of free will: the awesome capability to discern good and to choose good over evil, life over death. The stories of Jesus and his disciples, beginning with Mary, Elizabeth and Zechariah—and all stories like them—offer the blessed assurance that God is with us “from age to age,” accompanying us, supporting us on our earthly journey so that we may cooperate with grace, to choose every possible manifestation of life and what is life-giving. A secular parallel to these events and themes includes the many ways the stories of our ancestors (i.e., ancestors from our individual family trees and from our larger ethnic and national collectives) can inspire us toward the good in the here and now. Indeed, history itself offers us innumerable opportunities to keep learning from the past—correcting its mistakes and fostering its virtues for the good of all. Believers call this “Grace;” secularists might simply call it “the nobility inherent in every man, woman and child.”
 TANKAH is an acronym of the first Hebrew letters for each sections of the Jewish Bible: Torah (“Teaching”, also known as the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”)—hence TaNaKh. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanakh It comprises the same writings in most of what Christians call “The Old Testament.” Use of TANKAH is more multi-faith sensitive than “Old Testament” as is “First Covenant” and “First Testament.”
HERE ARE SOME QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION:
A. Explore the myriad of thoughts and feelings women in your group (or YOU as WOMAN, or women in your family) may have experienced when You or They first knew or learned they have conceived? Invite them to relate these to the thoughts and feelings Mary and Elizabeth expressed in the Gospel.
B. Ask women and men who have not had children, their emotional responses to other people’s pregnancies, particularly those of their siblings or close friends or the conceptions of a favored niece, nephew or Godchild.
C. Refer to birth announcements in the Jewish Bible called TANAKH and in the Koran and other faith traditions as well. Now ask yourself, “How do these add to your discussion of your experiences of pregnancy and sharing the “Good News?” You may wish to follow these links:
The Annunciation to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18: 1-15
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis%2018&version=NABRE AND LATER IN Genesis 21: 1-8
The Annunciation to Hannah that she will bring the prophet Samuel into the world: https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20Samuel%201&version=NABRE
And Hannah’s Prayer of Thanksgiving
For your convenience, I’ve inserted a selection of texts from THE KORAN. The website source appears after the text. from KORAN
SAHIH INTERNATIONAL TRANSLATION
3:44 That is from the news of the unseen which We reveal to you, [O Muhammad]. And you were not with them when they cast their pens as to which of them should be responsible for Mary. Nor were you with them when they disputed. 3: 45 [And mention] when the angels said, “O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah ]. 3:46: He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous.” 3:47-48 She said, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” [The angel] said, “Such is Allah ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is. And He will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel.
19: 18 – 35 She said, “Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of Allah .” He said, “I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy.”
She said, “How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?” He said, “Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.’ ” So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place. And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, “Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten.”
But he called her from below her, “Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream. And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. So eat and drink and be contented. And if you see from among humanity anyone, say, ‘Indeed, I have vowed to the Most Merciful abstention, so I will not speak today to [any] man.’ “
Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, “O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented. O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste.”
So she pointed to him. They said, “How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?”
[Jesus] said, “Indeed, I am the servant of Allah . He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet. And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah as long as I remain alive. And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive.” That is Jesus, the son of Mary – the word of truth about which they are in dispute. It is not [befitting] for Allah to take a son; exalted is He! When He decrees an affair, He only says to it, “Be,” and it is.
What the KORAN teaches about MARY
IF YOU WISH TO EXPLORE MORE OF THE KORAN ON YOUR OWN, GO TO: https://quran.com/ (Choose ENGLISH translation on top right of the web page)
D. Can you embrace the concept that whenever two people share the news of a pregnancy with joy (or GOOD NEWS of any kind), they are caught up in the same spiritual and emotional realities of the Annunciation and Visitation and other faith events? Why or why not?
E. Have you ever made a conscious connection with your own experiences and the biblical ones? If you have, what has that experience been like? In doing so now enliven your faith? If you are a secularist, how might these and other birth stories affirm your own humanity?
F. Explore sharing “Good News” of any kind with significant people in your life. Include such “Annunciation and Visitation Moments” as opening your first college acceptance letter, or Marriage Proposal, Engagement Announcement, job promotions or the beginning of any new enterprise. I am sure you will discover a lot of common ground here as the parallels are endless.
G. Now here’s my rationale for these questions: Moments of “GOOD NEWS” have a universal, mystical quality about them as if we are “suspended outside of time and place.” When, as people of faith, we allow ourselves to be caught up in these moments, we believe we are experiencing God. This is one of our many opportunities to see Scriptures as our autobiographies. For those more skeptical about owning moments as “experiences of God,” how might you describe these kind of events and experiences of sharing “Good News?”
 I want to emphasize the Hebrew word TANAKH in sensitivity to our Jewish friends. What Christians call “The Old Testament” is actually the writings of The First Covenant, i.e. God’s covenant with Israel—the descendants of Jacob aka Israel. The Covenant through Jesus for Christians is truly a Second Covenant. The Jews call their books TANAKH and so we respect them by using this title rather than “Old Testament.” Contemporary Christians affirm the validity of God’s Covenant with Israel grounded in Paul’s Letter to the Romans 11: 29 and in the Catholic Ecumenical Council known as Vatican II (1963-65) in the document NOSTRA AETATE (“In Our Time”) See http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decl_19651028_nostra-aetate_en.html n truth the people of Christian History have been disrespectful of Judaism and contributed to anti-Semitism and violence against the Jewish people. Yet, Judaism constitutes the very foundation of Jesus and therefore Christianity. In that way our ancestors neglected to observe the Fourth Commandment (Catholics) aka Fifth Commandment (Orthodox Christians and Protestants): Honor your Father and your Mother.