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  • Writer's pictureMary Beth Keenan

The Joy of Sisterhood: Celebrating the Visitation through the Seasons of Life

I was standing in a Mexican town square, looking at the facade of a church, when my phone pinged. I was feeling homesick during my study abroad and a wave of gratitude washed over me when I saw my sister’s name. “Happy Feast Day!” the message read. I paused to look at the date, May 31st. What was today’s feast day? We rarely celebrated any feast day for me in my family of origin; I always felt there were too many to choose from when your name is Mary. A quick search showed me that it was the Feast of the Visitation: when my two namesakes (Mary and Elizabeth) rejoice together for the children in their wombs. I smiled, realizing that I finally had a feast to call my own. 

Eight years later, my husband and I quietly celebrated the Visitation, praying over the life that had just taken root in my own womb. Nausea, fatigue, and vertigo had begun to also take hold of my body. I reflected with wonder at Mary’s haste to see Elizabeth. Early on in my first pregnancy, the thought of moving anywhere with speed made me want to take a nap. I could now appreciate how strong Mary’s joy and heart of service was: she dropped everything to attend to Elizabeth in a season when most people need extra support themselves. 

That fall, my sister and I stood, hugging and squealing with joy in the entryway to our parents’ home. She had announced her second pregnancy. I stood in my third trimester (although bouncing with glee is more accurate) yelling “We’re like Mary and Elizabeth! We’re pregnant at the same time! This is our visitation!” My devotion and understanding of the Visitation deepened again: it was about sisterhood. 

While they were pregnant at the same time, Mary and Elizabeth’s journeys to motherhood were very different. Mary was young, unmarried, and surprisingly pregnant with the Son of God. Elizabeth was aging, witnessed years of infertility, and was surprisingly pregnant with her first child. They both carried the weight of societal judgment and growing wombs. 

Each season of life holds great joys and deep sorrows. Mary and Elizabeth show us how to accompany each other through it all. Mary is able to bring her full self to attend to Elizabeth. Elizabeth and the child in her womb greet Mary in her complex season. I look to Mary and Elizabeth as examples of how to authentically enter into moments of nuance and accompaniment with those who I view as brothers and sisters, my own sister included. I pray that you too may find spaces that welcome your entire self, extending an invitation to both serve and be served.

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