I love Irish music, and one of my favorite groups is Cherish the Ladies, the internationally acclaimed band of women musicians who play Irish and Celtic music. I knew they were doing their annual Christmas concert, which I’d never seen, at a nearby venue, but I procrastinated and the show sold out. I berated myself for dragging my feet.
Then I bumbled into a second chance. A few Sundays ago, I heard on the radio that Cherish the Ladies was performing its Christmas concert that day at St. Barnabas parish in the Bronx. The afternoon concert had sold out, but the announcer didn’t say whether tickets were available for the evening show.
I wanted to go, but I started to worry. What if I got lost en route? It would be dark, of course, and I hadn’t been to St. Barnabas in a while. (Procrastinator that I am, I still don’t have a travel app on my mobile phone.) It was raining; what if the roads were slippery? What if I arrived and there were no tickets left?
My desire to see the concert was stronger than my fears. I set out with at least an hour to spare, which was fortunate, because I did get lost. I overshot the exit, ended up on narrow, unfamiliar side roads and had to find my way back to the parkway.
As I drove through the night without knowing exactly where I was, I started to think about Mary and Joseph on the way to Bethlehem. What must it have been like, traveling on foot over uneven roads, trekking up and down hills, mile after weary mile? How difficult it must have been for Mary, so near the end of her pregnancy; even if she rode on a donkey, it had to be uncomfortable. And while the journey itself was arduous enough, Mary and Joseph also faced uncertainty about where they would stay in Bethlehem. Maybe they guessed that with so many people heading for the same destination because of the census, there might not be an inn with room for them to lodge.
All of this ran through my mind as I drove around the Bronx in the misty, rainy darkness. I didn’t feel nervous, just frustrated, but I was well aware how much easier my journey was than Mary and Joseph’s. I had chosen to make this trip, and my way was illuminated by streetlights and electric signs. If I needed help, it was easy to find. Mary and Joseph traveled at the command of Caesar, while following the will of God as communicated to them by angels. They were strengthened and sustained by grace, of course, yet what courage it required to do what God had asked without knowing what lay ahead. They willingly set out on a journey fraught with difficulty, not knowing how it was likely to end.
In doing so, they changed the world. Mary was, after all, carrying the not-yet-born Jesus. Her steps and Joseph’s brought Jesus to Bethlehem. They traveled, in a sense, in darkness, but they carried the Light of the world and the salvation of humanity.
My own journey that Sunday evening ended happily. I arrived safely at the St. Barnabas High School auditorium, where tickets still were available for the concert—probably because 600 people had attended the concert that afternoon. Joanie Madden, the exuberant leader of Cherish the Ladies and an outstanding musician, announced that the total attendance that day was 900. No wonder, because it was a great concert. I also had a welcome chance to catch up on the news with the pastor of St. Barnabas, Father Brendan Fitzgerald, whom I’ve known for a long time.
Setting out for the concert was the right decision. Who knows, maybe Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child traveled with me. After all, they know the way.
At Christmastime and in the new year, may all your ways lead you to where you need to be, and may the music be sweet when you get there.