Today we celebrate the Feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The gospel reading (Luke 1:39-56) for today tells the story of Mary going to visit Elizabeth. In this story there are four living people taking part in the story (Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband is also mentioned by name).
The first of the four is, of course, Mary. Mary has just experienced the Annunciation where the angel Gabriel has told her that she has been chosen to be the mother of Jesus, our Lord. Mary accepts the gift of life in her womb. She rejoices at this life. The angel Gabriel also tells her that Elizabeth, her relative, is pregnant. Mary goes to Elizabeth so that they can share their joy.
Elizabeth is the second of the four we will discuss. She has never had children and is now beyond the years for child-bearing. She could have thought why now? Today some medical people would say the pregnancy is too risky because of her age. She could have said herself that she was to0 old to raise a child but her response is to embrace the gift of life in her womb (see Luke 1:25).
The third person we will talk about is John the Baptist. He is inside his mother’s womb. When the angel Gabriel told Mary that Elizabeth was pregnant, he said, “this is the sixth month for her who was called barren.” (Luke 1;36b) Sixth month… that means 24 weeks. In medical terms of today, that means John would be considered viable. He would look like a human being with a head, body, arms, and legs with all the body parts there. I take today’s reading as proof that he also had a soul at that point. Why? Inside his mother’s womb, he could not see Mary and certainly could not “see” in Mary’s womb yet he reacts to Jesus’ divine presence as he leaped in Elizabeth’s womb. How could he have reacted to Jesus’ divinity if he (John) did not himself have a soul to perceive the divinity.
That brings us to Jesus, the fourth living person in this story. At this point, he would have just been conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb. He would not have been considered “viable” by today’s medical standards but he was very much alive. Both Elizabeth and John react to Jesus’ presence in Mary’s womb. Elizabeth refers to Mary as the “mother of my Lord” (Luke 1:43) so she is aware, “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41) that Jesus is present, John the Baptist reacted by leaping in her womb. Clearly Jesus is present in his divinity. Does that not mean that he, in his humanity, has a soul at that point? So the soul is present upon conception and we are alive.