Sherry Antonetti is a freelance writer, blogger and published author of The Book of Helen. She lives just outside of Washington, DC with her husband and their ten children.
When Mary came to Elizabeth's house, St. John the Baptist leapt in his mother's womb, and Elizabeth asked, “Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?”
That moment between the Blessed Mother and her older cousin conjures up a memory for me of a 42-year-old man with developmental disabilities who wore Notre Dame shirts every day, who we called “Mr. ND.” His real name was Ted. Ted's love for the team and the school made him cry when they lost, “I'm never going to root for them again,” and cry harder when they won. “They're so beautiful.”
In morning recreation, he always led all of us in the closing songs, the “Notre Dame Fight Song,” “Hike! Hike! Hike!,” and “Notre Dame Our Mother.” At the end of each football season, as a special treat, we'd take everyone who attended the weekend recreation program to a Notre Dame football game. It remained a high light every year for Ted, but the biggest moment came when Lou Holtz and the entire team showed up for a surprise visit to the recreation program. It took Ted ten minutes to calm down enough to shake hands, and when they gave him a Jersey and football, he said, “This is the greatest day of my life.” He meant it. He didn't feel worthy to be visited by the team or the coach.
I think the football team felt equally awed, to be so loved simply for being. More than a few came to recreation to volunteer that year after the football season. Notre Dame brought kids at the height of intellectual and physical capacity into friendship with individuals who struggled with basic life skills. Our Lady starts all sorts of friendships, all she needs is an “In.”
While visiting with a friend who lives in South Bend, she told me that whenever she travels, she dons University of Notre Dame t-shirts for the trip. She explained, “If you wear Notre Dame, you'll never be lonely. People come up to talk about the game they saw, the friend they know, or where they wish they could have gone.” Mary is again, using that “in” to build relationships. The cab driver who took me to her house started up on a discussion of praying because we were going to visit the campus. Whatever door we crack open, she comes through.
Mary wants to start the conversation, to create connections between people, across generations—and she does through the school and its t-shirts. These conversations were little Visitations—Mary bringing people together, Mary inviting us into relationship with both her, her son, and each other. It's one of her ways of visiting, of breaking the wall of silence between strangers, by getting them to talk about football—and sooner or later, bigger things than football.