Some years ago, I was attending a wedding reception when a man came up to me and mentioned the name of one of my parishioners. He asked if I knew him. The person that he mentioned was named Bob.
I said that not only was Bob a member of the parish, he was one of the most dedicated, friendly and kind members of our congregation.
The man at the wedding said that he had known Bob for many years. He said that Bob was a salesman for a supplier that did business with his company.
Then, I asked in a somewhat light-hearted mode, “So, does Bob give your company a good price? A good deal?”
And the owner of the company said to me, “I don’t know.”
To which I replied, “What do you mean that you don’t know? You just told me that you have been doing business with Bob for a number of years.”
“That’s just it,” the owner responded. “I have known Bob for many years, and I trust him. You see, I don’t do business based on contracts. I do business with people who I believe in.”
It is said that people nowadays have difficulty making commitments. More and more, it seems, we have a hard time saying “yes” to things. In fact, I heard a report on the radio the other day that lamented the fact that the matter of an RSVP is almost becoming worthless. Indications are that most people either ignore them or only respond to them at the last minute. Apparently, people are struggling when it comes to taking responsibility for something or obliging themselves to commitments.
Perhaps one of the reasons that the level of commitment has depreciated so badly has to do with the fact that — in many cases — the personal element has been removed from making commitments. So many of the commitments we face in life have been taken from the realm of relationship and placed in the realm of contracts.
Unlike the situation between the company owner and Bob that I mentioned, the focus is now upon what a paper states — a paper that seeks to delineate each and every parameter and condition — a paper that ultimately seeks to remove trust from the situation.
The former commitment based upon a promise is now merely a transaction. There is no longer a place for fidelity and loyalty because those matters are without reservations and restrictions. But for many these days, commitments now are negotiated and stipulated as being “so much and no more.” No wonder people are having a difficult time making commitments since so much of life cannot be stipulated or predicted in exact detail.
Which is why the story of our Blessed Virgin Mary that we encounter in the Gospel during this season of Advent comes across so boldly and wondrously. In the Gospel of Luke 1:26-38, Mary is presented with the most remarkable choice that any human being ever has had to make. She is asked to make a commitment that is remarkable in courage and truly heroic. This young maiden is being asked literally to bear responsibility for the fate of humankind. She is asked to conceive and to raise a child who will save the world.
And, if that wasn’t enough, she is being asked to make this commitment when the perception of how this can take place is lacking. Nothing seems to be stipulated and no parameters are being offered.
And, yet, Mary says “yes” to the offer. “May it be done to me according to your word,” she proclaims. Mary makes the most profound commitment ever known because her commitment is not to some “thing” but to some “one.” Her commitment is to God. Her commitment is a matter of relationship, which by nature is grounded in faith and trust. Mary believes in God, and she doesn’t need a contract. She doesn’t require assurance regarding what each and every thing her commitment to giving birth to Jesus will entail.
Mary believes in the One who always stood by her and her people — who had already done the impossible again and again in rescuing her people from slavery and bringing them to a promised land — who had chosen them and never abandoned them even when her people had let him down.
True commitment is always about belief. It is a matter of faith. And, soon, in this season of Advent grace, we will be reminded of this yet again. For it won’t be too long before our magnanimous God will seek to draw us back again into a renewal of the importance of commitment. For, once again, we will celebrate the commitment that is Christmas. And we will recall the One who so faithfully loved the world that he daringly committed himself to send us his son to save us from sin and death.