Song of Songs 2:8-14
Today’s gospel encounter between two women and their unborn children (the Visitation) is not only a powerful demonstration of their faith but also a shining symbol of hope for the world and for all of us.
The promise made by the Lord to Mary is fulfilled in the birth of Jesus and confirmed by the faith of Elizabeth and her son, John the Baptist. These accounts of motherhood have resonated down the ages. They have created an enduring cultural image and perception of the wife and mother, often portrayed in Madonna and Child representations throughout the Eastern and Western traditions of the Church.
However, as important as these are to Marian devotion, they also have a darker side which is not restricted to the Christian churches but is common across ages, cultures, and faiths: that women are defined by and confined to the role of wife and mother.
In modern times we have seen this concept challenged by many women across cultures and belief systems and have seen some successes gained, at least in some societies. However, resistance – predominantly by men and the institutions they have established – has been fierce, as witnessed by the current situation in Iran, and prolonged, as witnessed by the stonewalling of the Catholic Church to the role of women within the institution.
Despite the countless manifestations of this cultural expectation: from the extreme such as the sheer extent of violence against women and children in our own society, to more subtle and nuanced examples such as the gender pay gap, there is hope for a fairer and more equitable world in which women are treated as equals.
I like to think that Mary and Elizabeth, the young and the elderly, would hold out hope for such a world.
Phil Page is a member of the St Joseph’s Hobart Parish