Choices. We all have choices, and the choices we make have an impact on what happens. What we choose matters. What we choose can affect the people around us; what we choose can affect the world around us; what we choose can affect the fate of the world.
I’ve been a fan of the Lord of the Rings since I first read it in High School; I’ve read it several times and every now and then I take it out and read it again. Needless to say, I have both the theatrical release and extended versions of the movies. Every main character in the series has choices to make: the members of the Fellowship as they try to find each other and do their part in the struggle for Middle Earth; Aragorn as he tries to find in himself the strength to do what needs to be done to defeat the Enemy and claim his crown; Sam as he follows Frodo to almost certain death in a land far away from anything he ever knew; and Frodo as he tries to accomplish a task that he didn’t ask for, bear a burden he didn’t want to take, and go a place he didn’t want to go.
All of the characters in the series made choices: to remain loyal to one another, to stay true to the mission they were given, to give up their lives for one another and for people they would never see or meet. They are called to see a greater good and respond to it. In this story, those who make the right choices are rewarded with success, even if that success has a price; those who choose poorly suffer the consequences.
It’s interesting to think once in a while what might have happened if people in the Scripture had said no when they had choices to make. Mary had a choice to make in response to the angel Gabriel: if she said yes, she would be the mother of the Messiah, but as an unmarried woman she risked public shame and humiliation at the least; if she said no, then who knows how much time would have passed before the Messiah could arrive. She had to make a choice for the good of the world, take on a burden for the benefit of the world, give up a normal life for the sake of many.
Mary chose to visit Elizabeth and help her at a time when Mary might have been uncertain about what was going on. She might have been feeling everything that a newly pregnant woman feels, and I’ve been led to believe that it’s not pleasant. We don’t have to go into details. She may have marveled that her cousin was pregnant when Elizabeth and her husband had gone so many years without children. She may have wondered how Elizabeth would respond to her news.
Elizabeth was the one who saw what was happening, saw the miracle that was to take place with Mary, to recognize that she was the chosen one, even though Mary may have not recognized it yet. John the Baptist started his ministry that day by letting his mother know that Mary was the one carrying the savior of the world. Elizabeth told Mary something that she may not have believed until then: “Blessed is the one who trusted that the Lord’s promise to them would be fulfilled.”
As we go through our lives of faith, how do we feel about what we believe? Sometimes it seems as if folks treat faith like Frodo’s ring; full of dangerous power that we don’t want to get in control of us, and something that makes us want to disappear when we put it on. It’s OK if we just keep it around our neck or in our pocket, but don’t catch us using it. If we let Christ get to big a hold on us, we won’t recognize ourselves. But, that’s a good thing.
We are called to choose like Mary chose. We are called to take with us the presence of Christ, not only for our own benefit but for the benefit of world. Recently I was asked about being baptized against our wills, and I think that we choose to accept our baptism every time we come before God in prayer, every time we reach out to someone in need, every time we commit our resources to the Church, every time we do something unselfish.
We have a free choice, and what we choose makes a difference in the world. We can choose to look after ourselves or look after others. We can spend every spare cent we have on ourselves and our families or we can spend it doing God’s work. We can be only loyal to ourselves, or we can be loyal to those around us, those who depend on us, even those we cannot see. If we can choose as Mary chose, then we may hear Elizabeth’s words ringing in our ears: “Blessed are those who believed that the Lord’s promise to then would be fulfilled.”