By Fr. Glenn Jones:
It’s that time of year again. Yes, yes … tinsel, Santa Clause and the joyous squeals of children unwrapping their treasures on Christmas morn, but also that of a particularly delightful natural beauty here in New Mexico: the migration of thousands—perhaps millions—of various waterfowl down the Rio Grande.
A most memorable unplanned side trip of years gone by was a January unplanned detour from the mundanity of south I-25 to visit the Bosque del Apache Wildlife Refuge. Often touted for its winter migratory fowl population, expectations were nonetheless rather low; after all, how many times have we been disappointed by over-hyped tourist destinations? But this time … whoa! Tens of thousands of our winged companions swimming, circling, dining freely in their watery haven. Definitely worth the detour, or even a day trip, prior to their return to northern climes.
Now I find myself fortuitously living in part of Albuquerque over which flocks of migratory birds fly daily during the winter months—cranes and ducks, and much more aerial “V” formations of Canada geese, the Rio Grande their evening retreat. Fortunately, their early morning exodus from the bosque along the river is largely silent. Not so much their evening return, honking as freely as Manhattan taxi drivers. The ducks, cranes and egrets, however, are almost always silent … bless them.
Some of us who are older and from rural areas may remember comparative terms of distance when asked for directions: “Oh … about this many miles as the crow flies … and about that many miles as the dog trots,” … especially between points with significant intervening natural obstacles or circuitous routes. Birds, however, exist largely unconcerned with yawning chasms, impassable rivers, fences and established roadways. Our winged friends, rather, fly high above … taking scant notice of our traveling travails.
By analogy, such is the way of the sincere and devout Christian, who lives IN the world without living FOR the world … always journeying—migrating—toward his/her true home … living above without viewing themselves as above or “better” than others … living for God and neighbor in humble service and for the greater good of the world as his Lord did before him … in readiness to serve his Lord, whom he sees in the other person. This is the will of God, explicitly expressed by Christ Himself (Matthew 25:31ff, John 13:13-15), echoed by the apostles: “If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” (Romans 12:18-21). As St. Paul writes the nascent Church in Corinth: “…though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more…I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some…Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (1 Corinthians 9:19,22; 10:24).
These came to mind while attending Saturday’s ordination of a priest, whom we pray will closely live that ministerial ideal of unflagging, ardent and faithful service to God and neighbor. On ordination day those ideals, the blessings—and future challenges—are uppermost in mind as the candidate approaches the altar, weighing the commitment and tasks to which he is now pledging himself—a pledge of service and fidelity. Yet dangers for him—as they do for all—abound … decoys lain by the poacher of souls.
More universally applicable was the pre-Christmas Gospel reading of this Sunday’s Mass—of Mary’s total surrender of self to the will of the divine by her beautiful and poignant acquiescence to become the mother of Jesus, whom Christians believe is Son of God. Her response to this singular, awesome and mysterious annunciation? A trustingly simple: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to Thy Word” (Luke 1:38)—a response echoing throughout time, and the goal of every sincere Christian. For, as we all know well, the concerns of the world’s journey—this “dog trot”—is strewn with obstacles, distractions and temptations from the good. But the devout Christians and the good person lives spiritually above the worldly fray, his hope not being in ephemeral money, power or prestige, but, like Mary, rather in the ever-enduring Good of the will of God.
I find myself often contemplating Mary and her unshakeable fidelity, despite the apprehension that she must have experienced … giving birth far from home and in a stable, escaping to a foreign land to save the life of her newborn, rearing him in an obscure and despised little village, only to eventually watch her only child die nailed to a cross. Not exactly what one might expect when called to be the mother of the Son of God! And yet, she who was “full of grace” exhibited all grace, undaunted even to the foot of that cross … only to rejoice on Easter morn.
So … as Christmas approaches—and all throughout our lives—let us “take flight” in contemplation of this greatest of births 2000 years ago … escaping the grasping confines of the world to dedicate ourselves more fully to the ideal—the Word—that was brought forth unto the world—that inexhaustible, yet ever new, fountain of grace burst forth upon the desert of human existence. So, O Christian—handmaid or manservant of the Lord—let us heed the only command that Mary—most blessed among women—gives: “Do whatever He tells you.” (John 2:5)
“…an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:9-11)
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.