[4th Sunday of Advent, Year C, 20 Dec 2015 / Mic 5:1-4a / Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19 / Heb 10:5-10/ Luke 1:39-45]
ONCE we were invited by some religious sisters to go caroling with some young children in their school. The mini-bus was full on the way to the shanty town where we would be singing – full of kids and full of joy. Their faces lit up the darkness of the evening. How eager they were to bring the joy and excitement of Christmas to the poor families we were visiting.
This eagerness to bring a joyful message to the world is seen in the life of the young Mary, as she travels through the hill country to be with her cousin Elizabeth. Luke the evangelist states that “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of her cousin Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.” (Luke 1:39-45).
The journey made by Mary is one of four days but she made it “in haste.” The Greek text gives us the word “spoude” which means zeal, enthusiasm, bubbling over and fervor. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta commented that joy gave Mary haste. She was full of joy because she was full of Christ. Not only did Mary carry Christ in her womb but also in her heart. How great if we too had this motivation, to go into the hill country of challenging situations and not stop in our efforts to bring Jesus to this world of today. What things stop us moving with haste? What factors tend to slow us down? There are three things or attachments which tend to make us lose our joy and enthusiasm – attachments to false pleasures, honors and riches.
False pleasures include the desire for an easy life, to relax too much and take things easy. As St John of the Cross noted, it only takes a little thread tied to the leg of a bird to stop it flying. Attachments can stop us loving. I like chocolate. One day a person was sharing their problems with me at the dinner table when the chocolate mousse arrived. As the problems became more serious so did the look on my face as the choco-mousse was vanishing fast! Many things can enchain us. The statue of Blessed Matthew Talbot, the Irish laborer who overcame his alcoholism, shows him with chains around his body and empty bottles at his feet begging the intercession of Mary. For those tee-total, non-smoking, chocolate haters, there are many interior chains that bind us: the false pleasure of judgments, of not forgiving, not taking the first step to reconcile all stop us loving others. What chains of pleasure bind you?
False honors can enchain us. The desire for all our titles to be recognized can be like a huge ball and chain around us. A man introduced himself to me here in Manila. He gave me so many credentials and titles that at the end he forgot to tell me his name. We can forget that beneath all our honors and awards we are dust and held together by the glue of God’s mercy! Mary would have been considered a nobody in her society. As a young virgin coming from the town of Nazareth with perhaps 150 inhabitants she had no family name to rely on. Our world of today worries so much about what people will say. A friend of ours had an older second hand hire car while his executive car from work was being repaired. His boss told him, “I understand if you want to park that old hire car a bit away from the office as I am sure you are embarrassed to be seen in it!” Many times we will not speak about Jesus because we are too worried about what people will say to us.
The last great slavery is false riches. The treasure for Mary was to bring Jesus to the world. What is my treasure? A man I saw once in the emergency room after a motorbike accident went crazy when we told him we had to cut off his leather jacket. He was seriously injured and the standard procedure is to examine the body fully to see the extent of the injuries. He threatened to kill the staff! He was putting his life in danger. His riches were in his image. Perhaps the jacket cost some money but his life and health were surely more precious. Sometimes our richness can be our self-image and how we look. Lord Jesus, come this Christmas and free us from our slaveries. Out of the attachments mentioned, for you, which one enchains you the most and stops you loving? The chains of false pleasures, honors or riches?
May the example of Mother Mary help us. Her pleasure was to bring Jesus to the world, her honor was doing the will of the Father, her true riches were to be filled the Holy Spirit. For us what we need to grow in freedom is not to acquire more things but to get rid of many! We need to get rid of many useless attachments that clog us up on the journey. As we hear in the movie Braveheart: “Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it!” Mary, refuge of sinners, may the coming of Christ free us to love others, may his birth in our hearts break the chains that stop us reaching out to love others. Amen.