December 17, 2015
Father Mark Doherty
I tell anyone who asks that the most enjoyable part of my life is the time I get to spend with the elementary school kids at St. Peter and St. Anthony-Immaculate Conception in the Mission District. They’re ceaselessly delightful and full of life. The little guys have me doing all sorts of things with and for them: playing duck-duck-goose; kickball; hula hoop; reading story books (most recently “Mr. Dandelion”); and… tying shoes. I untie bad knots and tie new, good ones on a regular basis. The little kindergarteners, first, and second graders are always running up and exclaiming: “Father! Fix my shoes!”
All of which has got me thinking a fair bit these days about one of our Holy Father’s favorite titles for our Blessed Mother: Undoer of Knots. I had never heard of this Marian title before Jorge Bergoglio was elected to the chair of Peter and started propagating this devotion, apparently one of his favorites. At first, the title struck me as a bit silly, and dare I say… kitschy (and maybe it is a bit!), but upon reflection the title conveys an absolutely central and profound aspect of the Gospel, namely the good news that through Mary’s fiat God can untie any and all bad knots to lead us through to a broader, fulfilling horizon.
We all end up in knots of one sort or another. Some are of our own making; others befall us. Either way, we can find ourselves shouting to the heavens: “Father! Fix this knot!” Sometimes the knots are so… knotty, that we’re tempted to despair. That’s always the end-game strategy of the evil one. He wants to convince us that not even God can bring something good out of our troubles.
Elizabeth and Zechariah were tied up in a seemingly unresolvable knot. The faithful couple had been unable to conceive, and so experience the joy and privilege of shepherding a new life into the world. Rather than try to cut corners and take matters into their own hands as we are so wont to do in our age, they entrusted themselves to divine providence. And lo! They received marvelous news that the Lord had not abandoned them but would deliver them from their knot. The visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is one of the most joyful episodes in the whole Gospel, as both women share with each other the bounty of the Lord’s providence.
But the Lord does not always untie the knots of our lives in the way we would like or foresee. More often than not he has something else in store, something which – in the long run – is even better for us, but which in the present is obscured. And so Christmas is a feast of both joy and faith: joy because the Lord comes to our aid, manifesting that his love for us is without bounds; and faith because in the moment of receiving the gift – which is often not as we expect it to be – not all questions are answered, nor are all anxieties laid to rest.
So we must pray and be watchful, so that when the Lord comes to answer our pleas, to set us free from our knots, we may recognize him (who would’ve ever thought the Almighty would come among us as a helpless babe), and, having recognized him, trust that the way in which he wishes to untie our knots is indeed the best way.
Father Doherty is parochial vicar at St. Peter Parish, San Francisco, and chaplain for Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory.