By: Rev. Paul Scalia
The month of May is a good time to give thought and prayer to the many titles of our Lady. And in his Chrism Mass homily, Pope Francis gave us a new one to consider: Our Lady of Promptness. A quick internet search for this title brings up only references to the same homily. So it would seem that the title is his own creation. But as is so often the case with Pope Francis, this novelty has deep roots in our faith.
The Pope takes his inspiration for this title from the account of the Visitation: “In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah” (Lk 1:39). The crucial words here are with haste (in haste or with all haste in other translations). Of course, haste does not always have good connotations in our culture. “Haste makes waste,” we heard as children. Pope Francis refers to the original Greek for this term: meta spoude — which can certainly be with haste. But it could also be translated with diligence or, as the Pope takes it, with promptness, promptly.
In her response to the news about Elizabeth, Mary is not rushed or harried, but prompt and diligent. No sooner does the Archangel Gabriel depart from her than she sets out — in haste, with diligence, promptly — to visit Elizabeth. She makes this visit certainly to assist the older woman during what would have been a difficult pregnancy and first months with her son. But she visits Elizabeth primarily to encounter the sign promised by Gabriel: “Behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible” (Lk 1:36-37). This sign was to answer her question, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” (Lk 1:34)
In short, Mary is prompt about the things of God. In this we find her again to be the example of the Christian life. She does not delay or put things off. She responds immediately and generously. Her purity of heart brings about a singularity of purpose. She is not distracted by competing loves, not interiorly divided, not hesitant in her commitment. Her promptness anticipates her own Son’s powerful and shocking exhortation to discipleship: “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead” (Mt 8:22).
As always, Mary demonstrates in a singular way what is true for all Christians. Those imbued with the life of Christ respond promptly to His initiatives, to His every last suggestion. Indeed, the goal of the Christian life is to become receptive and immediately responsive to God’s action within us. We must therefore cultivate the diligence and promptness exemplified by Mary.
And it is precisely the lack of such promptness that enmeshes us in sin. Most of us sin, not out of malice or hatred, but out of slowness and negligence, by putting things off. We delay about the things of God and thus create room for lesser loves and lesser goods to distract and overwhelm us. We violate the Sabbath not because we hate the Mass but because we fail to make it a priority. We allow other things — soccer, vacations, errands — to distract us. (And if that continues, we soon will resent the Mass.) Likewise we fail to pray because we simply do not act as promptly as we should. God’s initiative is there…but we put off our response, often failing to give it at all. And how many good works do we omit, not deliberately but because we delay and procrastinate and eventually set them aside altogether?
The word diligence comes from diligo, a Latin word for love. We are diligent about what we love. When a man loves sports, he is swift to check the schedules, scores, and stats. When a man loves a woman, he occupies himself with knowing her better and doing what pleases her. And when we love God, we are attentive and responsive to His every touch — no matter how slight — to knowing and doing what pleases Him.
Dante Alighieri never heard the title Our Lady of Promptness. But he would have recognized it immediately. In his Purgatorio, souls are purged of sloth — that slowness and lassitude about the things of God — by racing around the mountain while repeating, “Mary went with haste into the hill country!” Dante understood that our Lady’s example of promptness is the cure for our sluggishness.
As her kinswoman Elizabeth learned, Mary’s promptness to the things of God necessarily involves her care for others. She visited Elizabeth not only to see God’s sign, but even more to bring the presence of the Child in her womb. We benefit from this, as well. She is prompt in her care for us. She knows better than anyone else God’s loves for us and His desire for our salvation. For this reason, she does not delay in answering our prayers. She comes with haste to help us by her example, her intercession, and her maternal care. Our Lady of Promptness, pray for us.