When I first held a copy of St. Francis de Sales’ “Philotea” and when I was buying a ticket to Jasło to check whether what I was looking for in my life was in the convent of Visitation Order, I did not know that the mystery of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary would lead me to the place where I am now.

But let’s go back to earlier events for a moment. Whatever Mary was doing when the Messenger from Heaven stood before her, went aside. She was called and answered the call.

Ἰδοὺ ἡ Κυρίου δούλη 

Idou hē Kyriou doulē

“I am a servant.” The servant of the Lord, that’s clear. But after all, in serving the Lord, we are called to serve our neighbor. The message that Archangel Gabriel brought contains not only a theoretical but also a practical part: “And behold, your cousin Elizabeth also conceived a son in her old age, and in the sixth month is she who is considered to be barren.” And although it did not say “go to Elizabeth”, Mary “moved in haste” because she is a servant, she is doulē and her place is where her femininity will be a help in the moment of the greatest change in a woman’s life: in childbirth.

Because does marriage change that much? Does it involve so many mental and physical changes? I don’t want to argue that the wedding day is not important – it is, enormously. But if we want to consider an event in the key of the rites of passage, childbirth definitely wins. It is an event that totally engages a woman’s strength, inscribing her into nature with the same power as her own birth and death. And I do not want to say that it will be a mystical experience for each of us, because that is not exactly what it is about, but yes, maybe.

Nevertheless, let’s go back to Mary. She set off on a journey, reached Elizabeth, sang a hymn to God and her own, and stayed with a pregnant cousin for about 3 months. It doesn’t take advanced math to say that since Gabriel said that Elizabeth was six months pregnant and Mary stayed with her for three months, she probably stayed until the birth. Not all interpreters of Scripture agree, but she is a servant! Doula! How could she leave her cousin in labor without support?

Servant of God Fulton J. Sheen writes:

Mary “went with haste”; she is always in a hurry to do good. With deliberate speed, she becomes the first nurse of Christian civilization. The woman rushes to meet the woman.

Archbishop Sheen was unfamiliar with the word doula in the context in which we use it commonly today. It was only in the 1980s, when pediatricians Klaus and Kennell discovered the positive effects of continuous support in childbirth and began to hatch a new – though really ancient like a human species – profession, along with the first handmaid in labor, Penny Simkin, chose just is the Greek word: doula. If the Archbishop knew them, he would probably have appeared in the quoted passage instead of “nurse” – nurses. Mary – “the first doula of Christian civilization”. I can’t imagine a better role model.

Visitation by sister Laura McGowan