Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

God's Visitation

Witch Hazel in Snow

THE WORD VISIT COMES FROM THE LATIN visitare: to go to see. And visere: to behold. And yet again videre: to see, to notice, to observe. 

I like to behold the best. When I was a new priest on Long Island in the winter of 1980, I received a flyer from The Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay - a kind of heads up not to miss the outdoor winter events that might be overlooked in the cold time. "Come and see the Witch Hazel tree that's due to bloom in January."

As a young boy, planting a purple Columbine with my mother in the sandy Long Island soil delighted me. And I remember the happy discovery of a Jack in the Pulpit blooming in the wooded area behind our house. The idea of a tree blooming in January intrigued me, and so I set out.

It was a typical Long Island winter day: low sky, damp and gray with some snow cover. Following the little map offered at the gatehouse, I made my way around the trails until I found it. The tree was young, not yet six foot tall, but fully branched and indeed, (I could see even from a distance) it was covered with yellow flowers. Stepping closer, the air was filled with its perfume. Garden books and catalogs describe the scent as heady and intoxicating. I might as well have been standing with Moses before the Burning Bush. Thirty-four years later the memory of this visitation comes to me every January.

Perhaps we are losing our sense of visit or visitation because of the quick and often surfacey communicating that occurs via technology now. But not too long ago our lives were filled with the pleasures or requirements of visiting:

  • We might visit someone in a nursing home. Older folks lament not being visited. People are too busy.
  • Catholics over 50 will remember phrases like let's visit the church or visit the Blessed Sacrament.
  • The Sunday visiting of relatives was once an important aspect of American culture.
  • A nun would receive people in a visitor's parlor.
  • Years ago we might pay a visit to a neighbor or
  • Visit a funeral home - paying our respects.
  • Do we use the phrase visiting a website?

But now stepping into Ordinary Time (what used to be called the Sundays after Epiphany) we've completed the time of celebrating God's Visitation in Jesus of Bethlehem.  There are two lovely verses found in St. Luke's Gospel that call this to mind:

At the circumcision of his son, John (the Baptist), Zechariah spoke this prophecy: "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has visited his people and set them free and he has established for us a saving power..." (Luke 1:68)

And after the raising of the widow's son at Nain, "Everyone was filled with awe and glorified God saying, 'A great prophet has risen up among us; God has visited his people,'" (Luke 7:16)

But God visits still and not just in church. We might be on the look out! Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote: 

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.


  1. Beautiful memories Father. Thank you for sharing.

  2. We may have left the act of visiting behind to some extent. But in the world as it exists today, people move around and leave behind loved ones and friends for various reasons. We may not have the luxury of visiting face to face but technology allows us to still keep in constant contact. I agree however that nothing should replace the intimacy of person to person interactions. Maybe this is why it will be difficult to know when God is visiting us.

    1. I was making no value judgment on the fact that people don't visit any longer - simply that we have lost that sense. God has visited and God visits still. Though I must say, I have long worked as chaplain to a school for young people who have lost their way. Most are not able to advance a conversation. I can't help wonder how this inability might be due to the fact that we no longer "interface" with people - real people. God came into our world with a human face. "He looked at him with love." it is said of Jesus when conversing with the rich young man.

  3. You have brought back the memories I do have of our family visits each Sunday. Being the youngest of five, there were lots of nieces and nephews running around my mother's kitchen, as she fed us all and we ate and visited and talked and played. Isn't God's presence in the human face to face encounter, something that no other means can provide? I so feel and believe that the human heart, as well as the face is missing from the electronic communication, with a special exception: your blog! Thank you for the presence of God and the words from your heart to ours.

  4. You are an inspiration both in person and through the wisdom of your writing. I am grateful for the privelege of being able to listen to you preach. It enables me to hear your words come to life when I read your blog. I keep you in my prayers.

    1. I would like to add that I hope to hear one of your homilies again one day and make that connection. You have left a permanent impression in my heart and on my soul. I am a better person for having been taught by you in your humbleness and piety.

    2. And I am a better person for the many people I've met along the way in parishes on Long Island and up north. It was dear folks on Long Island who prompted me to envision this blog and then the practical stuff of getting it up and running. "You're not reaching your audience," Otto said, "You need to put this bulletin column online." And Dina said, "Setting this up is easy..." and she did just that. How grateful I am! And my gratitude for the so many people who during the homily time would make eye contact in churches big and small - the eye contact of docility (teachable-ness).

  5. I enjoy these stories that look into the past. It feels like a visit, if not in terms of actual togetherness, but as in 'seeing'. Doesn't witch hazel have medicinal properties? It's essential oils used for healing?

  6. I would like to jump in and say that I am just so grateful for however you came to write Pauca Verba online. I looked forward to reading them in the church bulletin and it is a pleasure to be able to read it in blog form. Thanks to you and whoever helped you get it started. It does allow you to potentially reach a large audience. I still miss your Sunday homilies though as anyone who has been to your masses will understand.

  7. Thank you for all you Mass, in your homolies, on your blog, in your books, in your presence face to face! Nanci