I recall how, as a child at school, we were sometimes made to learn poetry. At the time I hated it, and baulked at the idea of having to commit to memory The Ancient Mariner, and in fact, never did. But one poem which did touch me, was Belloc’s Courtesy. It began:
Of Courtesy, it is much less
Than Courage of Heart or Holiness,
Yet in my Walks it seems to me
That the Grace of God is in Courtesy.
The poet goes on to tell us how, on one occasion he visited the ‘monks’ at Storrington in Sussex, and that ‘They took me straight into their Hall’
where he ‘saw Three Pictures on a wall, And Courtesy was in them all.’
He then tells us the subject of those paintings:
The first the Annunciation;
The second the Visitation;
The third the Consolation,
Of God that was Our Lady’s Son.
The first was of St. Gabriel;
On Wings a-flame from Heaven he fell;
And as he went upon one knee
He shone with Heavenly Courtesy.
Our Lady out of Nazareth rode —
It was Her month of heavy load;
Yet was her face both great and kind,
For Courtesy was in Her Mind.
The third it was our Little Lord,
Whom all the Kings in arms adored;
He was so small you could not see
His large intent of Courtesy.
Today is the feast of the Visitation, when we celebrate how our Lady made the long and uncomfortable journey to see her older kinswoman, Elizabeth, and her husband Zachariah, who lived in the hill country of Judah. Courtesy seems to me to be a perfect description of what this moment is all about. Imagine the cordial welcome extended to Mary by the older woman, solicitous for her health and how both women were eager to share with one another the joy of the forthcoming births of their sons. Our Lady had herself gone to visit her older cousin, not simply because she wanted to ‘be there’ for her, but because she wanted to share her own good news, which was not hers alone but for her people and, ultimately for the entire world.
This is something Elizabeth seemed to know already! Her enthusiastic greeting is wonderful when she cries out ‘Oh that I should be visited by the Mother of my Lord’. Her unborn son joins in the greeting, kicking and letting his mother know that he too is part of this exciting thing that is happening. Elizabeth’s gracious words: ‘Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb’ have been enshrined in our prayer to the Virgin, incorporated with the Angelic Salutation: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace!’
And if today’s feast is about courtesy (so much more than stiff politeness or polished manners, but a warm and real concern for the wellbeing and interest of the other) then it is also about joy. Mary’s presence, together with that of her Divine Son, transformed the home of Elizabeth and Zachariah. ‘Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit’ because of it. St Jose Maria puts it thus: ‘Mary brought joy to her cousin’s home, because she “brought” Christ’. Dame Julian liked to call Jesus ‘our courteous Lord,’ no doubt on account of his gracious dealings with us, flowing from his ‘large intent of Courtesy’!
Julian writes in her Showings:
And this is a supreme friendship of our courteous Lord, that he protects us so tenderly whilst we are in our sins; and furthermore he touches us most secretly, and shows us our sins by the sweet light of mercy and grace. But when we see ourselves so foul, then we believe that God may be angry with us because of our sins. Then we are moved by the Holy Spirit through contrition to prayer, and we desire with all our might an amendment of ourselves to appease God’s anger, until the time that we find rest of soul and ease of conscience. And then we hope that God has forgiven us our sin; and this is true. And then our courteous Lord shows himself to the soul, happily and with the gladdest countenance, welcoming it as a friend, as if it had been in pain and in prison, saying: My dear darling, I am glad that you have come to me in all your woe. I have always been with you, and now you see me loving, and we are made one in bliss.
So sins are forgiven by grace and mercy, and our soul is honourably received in joy, as it will be when it comes into heaven, as often as it comes by the operation of grace of the Holy Spirit and the power of Christ’s Passion.
These reflections are sent out each Wednesday to all those on our mailing list. Click here to sign up to our mailing list, and receive our Sunday E-newsletter and these reflections straight to your inbox.