(Song of Songs 2:8-14 and Luke 1:39-45)
December 21 Simbang Gabi
by Fr. Randy Flores, SVD
Travelling today from Manila to the province of Abra in the north of Luzon will take only eight hours by bus including heavy traffic.
One hundred years ago—in 1909, it took eight days for the first SVD missionaries, Fr. Luis Beckert and Fr. John Scheiermann to reach the very first mission station Philippine SVD in Abra. It was a long, non-stop journey, in haste.
Fr. Luis was coming from China, where he had been a missionary for six years. Fr. Juan from Europe, where he had just been ordained a priest. Their meeting place was Hongkong and from there they travelled together by a steamer to the Philippines, arriving in Manila, on August 15, 1909.
Spending just four days of rest from almost a year of sailing, they began their travel to Abra, probably on horseback to Pangasinan, then by boat to Vigan; from there the two foreigners took two to on two bamboo rafts from there to Abra going up against the current of probably swollen Abra River since it was the rainy season. They arrived in the capital, Bangued and then proceeded to San Isidro (called “Cagutongan” at that time) on horseback arriving there at noontime. This was August 23, 2009.
- (see the homily of Fr. Antonio Pernia, SVD at the SVD Centennial Mass, Shrine of the Divine Word, Christ the King Seminary, Quezon City, 14 August 2009; also Frederick Scharpf, SVD, “Traveling from Manila to Ilocos,” The Ilocos Review
20 (1988), pp. 127-131).
Mary, in the Gospel reading today from Luke (1:39-45), is a picture of a traveler in haste in the most delicate of situations—pregnancy. After the Annunciation Story, Luke narrates that “Mary arose and went in haste into the hill country to a Judean city” (v. 39)—to the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth. If Ein Kerem, a village southwest of Jerusalem, was the home of the couple (as tradition says), Mary could have traveled for ten days at the least, either on foot or on donkeyback, from hills of Galilee across the plain of Esdraelon, through the mountains of Samaria, into the Judean hills---along a land with many hills, valleys, deadly rocks and robbers.
It was a very long, tiring, and dangerous journey—yet she went in haste.
Why in haste? One scholar has advanced the idea that Mary left in haste to prevent neighbors at Nazareth from discovering her pregnancy. That is not the character of Mary, however, who often presented as a
contemplating woman—see Luke 2:19, 51 (B. Hospodar, CBQ 18 ). The better insight is to think that Mary travels in haste in “obedience to the plan revealed to her by the angel, a plan which included the pregnancy of Elizabeth (1:36-37)” (Raymond Brown, Birth of the Messiah, p.331).
Such reaction of going “in haste” to obey God’s will has other examples in the Bible. At the Exodus, the Israelites must eat the Passover meal “in haste” (Exod 12:11); the shepherds, once hearing the good news from the angels that a “Christ the Lord” is born, they went from the field to the manger “in haste” (Luke 2:16).
Some years ago, before the coming of e-mail, the most convenient way to send letters greeting cards is through the post office. Many of us would still remember the cars of the postal service plying the streets with their slogan, “Don’t Delay.” They were, of course, delayed most of the time.
“Don’t delay!” That seems to be the slogan of Mary in fulfilling God’s will. Mary ponders at her
heart, but in obeying God’s will, she does in haste.