Bottom line: Mary went "in haste." We ask her intercession to overcome sloth regarding the things of God.
Pope Benedict has given us a nice Christmas gift: his book "Jesus of Nazareth, the Infancy Narratives." You may know that he has written two other books on Jesus. The first book covers the events from the baptism in the Jordan until the Transfiguration. The second deals with what happened during Holy Week.
In these books the pope offers the fruit of his scholarship, pastoral care and prayer. Regarding the Infancy Narratives (the stories about Jesus' birth) he addresses these questions: "Is what I read true? Does it concern me? If so, how?" The pope's frankness and clarity may surprise you but I am sure it will increase your appreciation of who Jesus is and what he has done for us.
Sometimes the pope can take a single phrase and make a striking reflection. Let me give you an example from today's Gospel. We hear that when Mary, already pregnant with Jesus, went to visit her kinswoman, Elizabeth, she did so "in haste." Pope Benedict notes that the shepherds also made haste, when they heard about Jesus birth. He asks:
"How many Christians make haste today, where the things of God are concerned? Surely if anything merits haste - so the evangelist is discreetly telling us - then it is the things of God."
Pope Benedict is indicating one of the main problems of our modern world. We are busy - sometimes even frenetically busy - but when it comes to the "things of God" we tend to be lazy.* Right before Christmas, we are busy about many things, but do we stop and ask, "What is Christmas, anyway?"
I have nothing against Christmas shopping and preparing family celebrations. Those things are good and they require a lot of work and sacrifice. They are part of what I asked you to do last Sunday: Build a family.
This year, however, I am doing a different kind of family building. I am with six college-age youth on a Christmas Mission Trip to Peru. It involves first a pilgrimage to the shrines of St. Rose and St. Martin de Porres. For Christmas itself we are going to the Peru Highlands. We will spend Christmas eve with children of the Mary Bloom Center. We will be having a "chocolatada" - Christmas party that involves sharing a cup of hot chocolate with bread.
Maybe you are thinking: I wish I could be with Father Bloom and those college students. Well, in a certain sense you are with us by your prayers and support. And I ask you to join us in taking a step back - to recognize the blessings we have receive, especially the greatest blessing, Jesus himself.
On Christmas we will focus on what Jesus brings us. Pope Benedict will help us. He asks this question: What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity and a better world? What has he brought?
I will save that question for the Christmas homily. Meanwhile I ask you follow the example of the Mary. She went "in haste." And let's ask her intercession that, regarding the things of God, we might overcome sloth and laziness - that we might make haste to encounter the only one who can save us: the newborn King, Jesus the Lord. Amen.
*Two people who have addressed the laziness or sloth of our culture are Dorothy L. Sayers and Fr. Robert Barron. Writing about sloth, Dorothy Sayers observed:
It is one of the favorite tricks of this sin to dissemble itself under cover of whiffling activity of body. We think that if we are busily rushing about and doing things, we cannot be suffering from sloth...
In the world sloth calls itself tolerance; but in hell it is called despair. It is the accomplice of every other sin and their worst punishment. It is the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, loves nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive only because there is nothing it would die for. We have known it far to well for many years. The only thing perhaps that we have not known about it is that is a mortal sin.
One of the best contemporary explanations of sloth is by Fr. Robert Barron. He gives this definition:
What is sloth? Thomas Aquinas calls it “sorrow in regard to spiritual good.” I can’t muster any energy for spiritual good. The medieval called it “the noon day devil.” You know, it’s a hot day at noon and you just had your lunch and all you want to do is yawn and take a nap. Sloth is lethargy for spiritual things. I can’t muster any energy, interest or enthusiasm for the things of the spirit. It is boredom, depression and inactivity at the spiritual level of life.Fr. Barron then analyzes our inability to muster energy for the things of the spirit. He notes that 70% (!) of American Catholics do not attend Mass on Sunday. He says, "Yes, there are many reasons around why some do not go to Mass, but I suspect that, for most, they are suffering from spiritual sloth; they could just care less." He has an excellent talk where he not only analyzes the sin of sloth, but also offers an antidote.
I encourage you to listen to Fr. Barron's talk. It is part of retreat video titled "Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Lively Virtues."
From Archives (Homily for Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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