December 20, 2009


Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled. – Luke 1: 45

Ancient Greek & Roman myths often tell us more about human nature than they do about the gods. Take the story of Phaethon as related by the Roman poet Ovid:

His mother was mortal & his father was the sun-god who pulled the sun through the sky with his fiery chariot. One day Phaethon asked his father if the story of his parentage was true. The sun-god assured him it was, & as proof offered to grant any whish his son might have. The boy replied, “I want to take your place, father. Just for a day, a single day, let me have your chariot to drive.” Knowing the tragedy that would result from granting such a wish, the sun-god begged his child to choose something else. “Your mother is mortal & so you too are mortal; & no mortal could drive my chariot. Indeed, no god except myself can do that.” He pleaded with Phaethon to choose from all the goods & riches of the world & withdraw his original request.

But Phaethon persisted, & as morning drew near, he drove off in the sun-god’s chariot. As the horses began their ascent, they recognized hands weaker than their master’s holding the reins & began to pursue their own course, swinging about wildly in the sky, endangering the great constellations & terrifying the helpless boy. He dropped the reins & crouched in fear as the chariot hurtled down setting the world on fire. To save the earth, Jove – the supreme god – hurled a thunderbolt at the chariot, shattering it, killing Phaethon, & driving the horses into the sea.

It kind of reminds us of a teenager asking for the keys to his father’s car for the first time. As Phaethon unhappily discovered, there are times when “father knows best.” Whether weak-willed or strong-willed, fathers – like mothers, daughters & sons – are capable of being wrong-willed. Only the heavenly Father, whom we reverently address as our Father, possesses the power of unerring judgment & perfect will.

Jesus had no desire to take His Father’s place, even for a single day. Unreservedly, he staked His life on the power of the Father’s perfect will. He was tempted many times to substitute His will for the Father’s, but His trust in the Father’s love never wavered.

How foolish we are to imagine, even for a single day, that we can live without benefit of divine guidance. How foolish we are to pretend that we can take God’s place in exercising unerring judgment. In today’s Gospel, Mary is greeted by Elizabeth in these words: “Blessed are you believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Mary trusted in the power of God’s will. Life’s journey toward fulfillment is a risky one. Fried & foe alike appear on the scene to point us in all directions. We must trust in the Father’s way. For our mutual salvation, we must not usurp God’s place in the driver’s seat. He has a powerful hand on the reins. He will not leave us out in the middle of nowhere, not knowing how to travel life’s journey. May we travel together doing God’s will. May we travel together with Mary, in peace & love, even when the sword of sorrow pierces our own hearts also. AMEN!