In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
Ancient Christian writers delighted to notice that John was a prophet even before he was born, because he gave witness to Christ by leaping in his mother’s womb. Origen (b. 185 AD) wrote, “At that moment Jesus made his forerunner a prophet for the first time.” Maximus of Turin (d. 408 / 423) wrote, “Not yet born, John already prophesies and, while still in the enclosure of his mother’s womb, confesses the coming of Christ with movements of joy—since he could not do so with his voice.” Later the same Maximus noted that at the end of his life John was still giving witness to Christ – from the confines of a prison. “We should not be surprised that after Herod put him in prison, he continued to announce Christ to his disciples from his confinement, because even when he was confined in the womb he preached the same Lord by his movements.”
What does it seem to say? There is more to people than what comes from their conscious wills. The story of my life is much more than what I did and what happened to me between birth and death – and far more than the sum of all the words I have spoken. To push it to the end: the full story of my life would have to be the story of the universe – and also, the mystics tell us, the story of God. Any selections are bound to be out of context; they are abstract in a literal sense: abstrahere is ‘to pull away’. When Hegel said, contrary to normal usage, that the individual was abstract, he was just trying to direct our attention to the full view.
Crucially, for a Christian, the full story of your life is the story of Jesus. He is your larger self. St Paul wrote, "As in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another" (Rom 12:4-5). “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Cor 6:15).
St Ambrose (333 – 397) relates it to today’s reading: “Elizabeth exclaimed, ‘Blessed is she who believed.’ But you also are blessed who have heard and believed. For a soul that has believed has both conceived and bears the Word of God and declares God's works. Let the soul of Mary be in each of you, so that it magnifies the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each of you, so that it rejoices in God.”
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