The Visitation-St. Peter Canisius


Faith, Forgiveness, Healing and Joy:

Optional Memorial of St. Peter Canisius

(Zeph 3:14-18; Ps 33; Lk 1:39-45)


“The Lord has taken away the judgements against you, he has turned away your enemies.”

Those words, a repeat of the first reading from the third Sunday of Advent, along with the gospel account of the Visitation, hint at the way our faith becomes a source of joy, through forgiveness and healing.

“The Lord has taken away judgements” suggest forgiveness, while “he has turned away your enemies” suggests healing. So, as early as the time of the prophet Zephaniah, the mission of the future Messiah – to redeem and to sanctify – was being suggested. To redeem is to forgive, and to sanctify is to heal, so Jesus as the Messiah came to forgive us all our sins, and also to heal us of our sinfulness, that which makes us sin.

In both the Old and New Testaments, how God forgives is described – God will cast our sins as far as the East is from the West (Psalm 103:12) and not even remember them (Hebrews 8:12). Now that is forgiveness – if God doesn’t even remember our sins, they no longer exist! Why, then, do we find it so hard to forgive ourselves, or to believe we are truly forgiven? A person in his mid-eighties recently shared with me his struggle to let go of sins of a sexual nature he had committed forty years earlier, and confessed numerous times. I hope learning that God doesn’t even remember those sins will help him to let them go and forgive himself.

With divine wisdom, God knows forgiveness is only half the story – we also need healing for our sinfulness, that which makes us sin, or we will just start all over again and fill up the slate. Our sinfulness is our painful emotions like anger, resentment and bitterness – these are not our fault – they just are, but need to be addressed and healed. It is also our defects of character and negative attitudes such as false pride, stubborn self-will, self-righteousness, tendency to judge, need for power and control. Again, these are not our fault nor are they really sins – we need healing for these or we will act out of these deeply buried realities in our lives and commit sinful, hurtful acts.

This is the Good News of our faith – we can be forgiven all our sins and healed of all that leads us to sin. That is the role of Jesus as Messiah, to redeem and sanctify. All we need to do is be humble, acknowledge our need for both, and come to him for that forgiveness and healing so freely given.

It all began with the visit of Mary to Elizabeth, and the spiritual nature of that encounter. The Good News of the Incarnation, the Word become flesh from Mary, was so great that the cousin of Jesus, John the Baptist, leapt for joy when Mary came into her presence. John recognized the infant Messiah even in his mother’s womb. Not only that, Elizabeth exults for joy as she recognizes Mary as the mother of her Lord, so Elizabeth also recognizes Jesus as the unborn infant Messiah. Their mutual joy at this marvellous working of God in such a humble, invisible way in both their lives knows no bounds, nor should it.

Bishop Robert Barron adds this nuance to the visitation: At the Annunciation, the angel had told Mary that the child to be conceived in her would be the new David. With that magnificent prophecy still ringing in her ears, Mary set out to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who was married to Zechariah, a temple priest. No first-century Jew would have missed the significance of their residence being “in the hill country of Judah.” That was precisely where David found the Ark, the bearer of God’s presence. To that same hill country now comes Mary, the definitive and final Ark of the Covenant.

Elizabeth is the first to proclaim the fullness of the Gospel: “How does it happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”—the Lord, which is to say, the God of Israel. Mary brings God into the world, thus making it, at least in principle, a temple.

And then Elizabeth announces that at the sound of Mary’s greeting, “the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” This is the unborn John the Baptist doing his version of David’s dance before the Ark of the Covenant, his great act of worship of the King.

Today the church invites us to honor St. Peter Canisius. Peter was born in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, in 1521. He joined the Jesuits and ministered in Germany, Austria, Bohemia and Switzerland as a leader of the Counter-Reformation. Peter educated Catholics with his popular and influential catechism. Although he worked in a time of conflict with growing Lutheranism, he remained moderate and courteous. Peter died in Fribourg in 1597. He was canonized and declared Doctor of the Church in 1925.

The Eucharist is akin to a visitation – Jesus, Messiah and Lord of all creation, comes to us humbly through the Liturgy of the Word, and through communion with his body and blood given up for us on the wood of the manger, turned into the wood of the cross.

May our celebration deepen our faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord, open us up to humbly receive his forgiveness and healing, and fill us with the same joy Mary and Elizabeth experienced.


Updated: December 21, 2021 — 4:26 am

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