4th Sunday of Advent
Year C

Proceeding in haste

There are times when we must act cautiously if we would achieve a purpose (As the proverb says, "Look before you leap"). There are also times when we must act quickly or lose an opportunity (As another proverb says, "Strike while the iron is hot.")

Raoul Wallenberg usually had to make split second decisions; to strike while the iron was hot. The task he had undertaken was nothing less than saving Jews condemned to Hitler's "holocaust".

Raoul was a fascinating, even an unlikely "Scarlet Pimpernel". A Swedish Lutheran, aged thirty, he was employed as first secretary of the Swedish legation in Hungary in the early 1940's. He had wheedled from the King of Sweden, his diplomatic appointment to Budapest for precisely the purpose of rescuing victims. He had also wheedled from the King the authorization to give asylum to anybody who held a Swedish protective pass. Handing out protective passes to Hungarian Jews kept him constantly on the go, but by means of protective passes, he was able to save the lives of 100,000 Jewish people.

One day, for example, Raoul learned that a crowd of Jewish Hungarians had been corralled and packed into a train for a Nazi extermination camp. He reached the railroad station just in the nick of time. Brushing by the Nazi guard, he climbed on the roof of the train and moved along from car to car handing Swedish passes through the open doors and windows. The German officers ordered him down. The Hungarian Nazis shot at him. Nevertheless, Raoul finished his work calmly and efficiently. Then he got down and shouted, "All who have passes leave this train!" The pass-holders came out and he directed them to a fleet of autos bearing Swedish flags. Thus, he saved the lives of dozens of Jews, and the Nazis were too befuddled by his quick strategy to do anything about it.

In 1945 Raoul Wallenberg was finally arrested. Some think he may still be a prisoner in a Russian camp. But even in prison he can only be consoled by the memory of the day when he had "proceeded in haste" to rescue that particular trainful of Jews.

When Mary learned that her cousin, Elizabeth was soon to give birth to a child, she too "proceeded in haste" to the mountains where Elizabeth dwelt. (Today's gospel). In coming to Elizabeth's aid, she also brought the unborn Jesus into the presence of the unborn St. John the Baptist. And to John the future Savior communicated at that moment the freedom of the sons of God. May we never put off to tomorrow the good we can do today.

-Father Robert F. McNamara

Q246: Why put the story of Mary's visitation to Elizabeth only a few days before Christmas (Lk 1:39-45)? Is there a special message here?

Mary traveled "in haste" (v. 39) to share her Good News with Elizabeth, carrying the Messiah to others. And she came to serve Elizabeth in her time of need. Upon hearing Mary's voice, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and her baby (John the Baptist) leapt in her womb (v. 41).

One can draw many lessons from this beautiful scene. Surely "charity" stands out, as Mary comes to help Elizabeth. Mary is a model for love of neighbor. And from her loving service we see blessings flow, to both Elizabeth (who is filled with the Holy Spirit) and to John the Baptist (who is sanctified in her womb). We also see a reminder that Mary brought Jesus to the world, not just to Elizabeth and John. God chose her to be the willing instrument through whom he would come into the world, to save the world. So we see Mary as the Mediatrix of grace, as she brings the very life of God to everyone she meets.

One needs to respond to this choice of God, who made Mary his instrument to reach us! We need to reflect on the mysteries of both the Incarnation and the Visitation, through Mary, and link them to our own mission as baptized Christians. If Mary is the "model Christian" to imitate, then our task is clear. Are we ready and quick to help our needy neighbor in his/her time of need? Can people see the joy and love of Jesus in us, and recognize Christ in us? Am I fully aware that I bear Jesus within me, because of my Baptism, and that my mission is to bring him to others, with joyful haste, just like Mary did?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Our freely given "yes" to God's will in all things, especially to the ordinary teaching of the Magisterium, models Mary's obedience to God's will and her charity toward neighbor (CCC #967-9). When Mary visits you, it is God visiting you (CCC #717). What kind of a welcome have you been giving Mary? For what action is she called "blessed" (CCC #148-9)?

Q559: How can I relate to this story of two pregnant women (Luke 1:39-45)?

There is nothing more delightful and peaceful than seeing a newborn child being held lovingly in its mother’s arms. A tiny bundle of red, wrinkled new life puts a smile of awe and wonder on the face of everyone on this planet. Every parent muses: “What will this child grow up to be? Will he bring me joy or cause me pain?” It doesn’t matter to them, because pure love and affection is being poured out on the newborn child, the beginning of an endless supply of committed love.

Today we hear about two pregnant women (Luke 1:39-45), who probably asked those very same questions. Mary and Elizabeth did not know the answers, but they did know without any doubt that the very conception of their babies was the result of an intervention on the part of God. Elizabeth’s son became a desert evangelist, preaching repentance and judgment as well as the coming of the Messiah. He would eventually be killed by those who did not want to be confronted by their sins. If Elizabeth had known in advance, what could she have done?

Mary’s son started out in the carpenter’s trade, but as we all know he had a unique identity and a unique destiny. At the appropriate time he began his public ministry of bringing to all humanity the truth of his divine Father’s unconditional love. Jesus died on our behalf to bring us that revelation, to teach us how to love, and to redeem us from our sins. If Mary had known about his coming agony in advance, what do you think she would have done?

This was part of a reflection by Fr. Bill Grimm. He reminds us that Mary and Elizabeth could not protect their boys from life’s dangers. But they could and did do everything in their power to teach the boys to be faithful to the will of God, which ultimately is the only thing that matters. So Fr. Bill encourages you to ask yourself about your preparation of your own children. Are you teaching them the divine principles of living life according to God’s will? If you die today, will your children go to heaven?

KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Holy Spirit prompted Elizabeth to hail Mary as the “mother of my Lord” (CCC 495). What character traits do you see in Elizabeth that suggests and merits calling her a role model for Christians?

My Ways are not Your Way

Our God is faithful to his promises; but the way he keeps those promises does not always fit our expectations. The prophet Micah challenges the widely accepted notion about these promises when he proclaims the Messiah will come from Bethlehem instead of the great capital city of Jerusalem. The Letter to the Hebrews also transcends popular when he describes Christ as the high priest who offers his own body rather than sheep or goats in sacrifice to the Father. In Mary and Elizabeth we encounter the paradox of an unwed virgin giving birth to the Son of God, who will be prepared for by the son of a barren over-aged mother. That’s how our God works; He is not bound by our conventional wisdom.

As Advent draws to a close let us pray for the faith that opens our lives to the Spirit who leads us by his own paths to the Kingdom of God.