During Advent and now the Christmas season, I have tried to spend time each day meditating on the first chapter of Matthew’s Gospel and the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel. These three chapters are packed with significant events, responses, and depth on the part of the people involved and their encounter with God. Within them we discover the righteousness of St. Joseph, the foretelling of and birth of St. John the Baptist, the Annunciation of Our Lord and the fiat of Our Heavenly Mother, the Visitation and the beautiful prayer of praise known as the Magnificat, and the Nativity of Our Lord. If there is one theme that has stood out to me in my meditations it is that the spiritual life requires haste. When we hear God’s Word, and when we encounter the Living God made man, we are to respond in haste. There is no time to waste. The Word has become flesh, so let us go to Him in haste.
St. Joseph’s obedient and immediate response to God.
We do not know much about St. Joseph. He is silent in the Gospels, but his actions reveal a great deal about the adoptive father of the Son of God. The Gospel of Matthew tells us:
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly. Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus.
St. Joseph demonstrates his charitable character by refusing to subject Mary to public shame for what appears to be an adulterous act, but then an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream. The angel clarifies and explains Mary’s situation to Joseph and also invites Joseph to participate in God’s plan for the salvation of mankind as her husband. His role is to be the adoptive father of Jesus, the God Incarnate, who has come to His people to save them from sin and death. While this particular passage of Scripture does not use the word “haste” –as it appears in Luke–it is clear that St. Joseph responded immediately to God’s will. He did not wait to do these things, he awoke from the dream and did God’s will. He encountered God through the angel and responded quickly to God’s invitation.
Mary proceeds in haste.
Mary is par excellence in how to respond to God’s call in our own lives. She submits in obedience to the will of God and is drawn fully into the Trinitarian life by allowing the Holy Spirit to join to her humanity in order to conceive the God-man. After the Annunciation, Luke tells us that …”Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechari’ah and greeted Elizabeth” (Luke 1:39). Mary learns that her cousin is pregnant, and while she too is with child, she proceeds quickly to her cousin. This meeting is not coincidental. It is when St. John the Baptist and Jesus Christ–whose destinies are inextricably linked—first meet. The Holy Spirit is present in this initial meeting and will manifest at Our Lord’s Baptism.
Mary’s haste is an example to all of us. She says yes to God and then she immediately goes about doing His will. She goes to Elizabeth in charity and as she lives God’s will she enters deeper into communion and praise of Him. We are caught up in the Divine Life when we let God work through us and we cooperate in His plans. The blessings of God are shown in her beautiful Magnificat. In responding quickly and in obedience to God’s will, we move deeper into the actions of God in our own lives and the world around us. When we take our time, or become anxious and restless, we can easily fall into inaction or sloth. I do not mean we should abandon prudence. There is a difference between intentionally putting God off and prudence.
The danger of sloth comes from a lack of willingness to respond to God’s Word in our own lives. Whether we pray sporadically or seldom, disengage at Mass, or refuse to help our family members or our neighbors, the danger of ‘sorrow in relation to the spiritual good’ (St. Thomas Aquinas) is ever present when we are slow in responding to God’s call in our own lives. Holiness is not something we can keep putting off. God is calling us now. The path to sainthood is arduous and it cannot be put off until tomorrow. We must be attentive and respond in “haste” when He calls us, whether it been within our vocation or in our secular roles. God calls us constantly into deeper communion with Him, to holiness, and to witnessing by our lives, so that others can know God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The Shepherds respond in haste to the Savior.
The first two chapters of Luke are filled with the actions of people responding to God’s calling. Some do it well and others are slow to respond. Zechari’ah is struck silent until the birth of St. John the Baptist because he questions God and does not respond quickly in trust and obedience. Mary’s question is pragmatic and she responds quickly to God in her fiat. Later in Luke, an angel of the Lord appears to shepherds in the fields at night.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.
This is the second time that Luke says a person or people went in “haste” in response to God. The first is Mary and now the shepherds hear of God’s working from the angel and they go in haste to see the Savior. There is no waiting. The response is immediate. Once God has broken into our lives and we have a radical encounter with Him, we are to proceed quickly on the path. This immediacy is the response God is asking for from each one of us. St. Joseph gets up and immediately takes Mary as his wife. Mary gives her fiat and then goes about God’s work through the Visitation. The shepherds hear of the coming of the Savior and respond in haste. God calls each one of us to lead our families to Heaven, to evangelize, receive the Sacraments frequently, serve the poor, sick, homeless, needy, and unwanted, and to deepen our prayer lives. He is calling us to become saints at this very moment.
Do we respond in haste in our own lives?
As Catholics, we are saturated with the Word of God. The first half of the Mass is the Liturgy of the Word. We are called to listen to God’s Word and His call in our lives. It is through Sacred Scripture that He reveals Himself to us, so that we may respond to the gift of salvation and the call to communion with the Divine Persons of the Trinity. We are then given the Glorified Son’s body, blood, soul, and divinity as our spiritual food so that we are strengthened by His grace for the journey to holiness and our mission in the world. We are called to read and pray with Scripture on a daily basis, so that our lives may be enveloped by His Word.
Our response to God cannot be one of indifference, apathy, or sloth. He cannot fully work in our lives if we are not open to His call at all times and if we are not willing to respond quickly. The world is in need of a Savior—the very Savior lying in the manger—and we are called to share Him with the world today. This begins in our families, our parish communities, and our cities. We must proceed in haste to frequent prayer. Our day should begin and be filled with the urgency we see in Mary, St. Joseph, and the shepherds. The Mass should enliven our faith and we should go in haste to receive Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist and then go out into the world in order to bring others to Christ. We should help the needy, sick, lonely, unwanted, abandoned, and hurting in our communities with great haste. They need our help now.
This is our mission. We are sent into the world at the end of each Mass to bring the world into conformation with the Most Holy Trinity. This is not work that can be accomplished by the slothful, the indifferent, or the apathetic. It must be done with great charity, urgency, and haste. This Christmas, let us mediate on our need for haste in responding to God. May Mary, St. Joseph, and the shepherds point the way to the babe lying in the manger, so that we too may proceed in haste in order to bring others to Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. What a tremendous, awe-inspiring gift we have been given in the Incarnation.