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Joe Laramie, S.J.November 23, 2022
image from iStock 

Fall is hay-maze season in America.

My Cub Scout troop went to the St. Louis County fall festival. I was 7. We carved pumpkins, rode in a wagon pulled by a tractor and ate our weight in caramel apples. As the sun was setting, my friend Jason and I still hadn’t gone through the hay maze.

It was a huge pyramid of hay bales—stacked up, with twists and turns, ups and downs. Halloween decorations added a mix of comedy and danger—kitschy vampire dummies leaned against realistic zombies. We scouts were charged up with sugar and adrenaline. We were ready to break the Missouri hay maze record. My friend Jason and I shot into the entrance on hands and knees. After crawling along for a few minutes, the brightness of the entrance got dimmer and more distant. It was getting dark outside. The autumn sun peeked through cracks between the stacks.

“Help, help!” It was a big maze. If we were in the middle, could anyone even hear us? 

Then we were getting cold. We wriggled ahead, hit a wall and backed up. We stirred up dirt and hay dust and started coughing. Our initial energy faded with the light. We turned again, hit another wall and had to change course, bumping heads into butts and elbows into heads. “Help, help!” It was a big maze. If we were in the middle, could anyone even hear us? Would we ever get out? What if the troop left without us? We were crying, coughing, shouting, terrified.

My dad was a den leader on the trip. I heard his voice: “Joe? Where are you?” We shouted louder, “Help! Help!” What if he couldn’t find us? I saw a tiny beam of red light and reached my hand through the crack toward the light. “Dad! Here, here! I’m right here!” Could he see me or hear me?

Just then he grabbed the entire bale of hay, pulled it out, and tossed it aside. He was a huge black silhouette against the setting sun, as a cloud of dust rose between us. The light and dirt burned our teary eyes. We had hay in our hair and dirt on our faces. My dad grabbed me and Jason, lifting us up. We were crying, shivering, tears streaming down our dusty cheeks. We had gotten into the maze but could not get out. We needed someone bigger, stronger and wiser to help us.

My dad was watching and listening for us. I could not see him, but I did rely on him. He knew my voice, he heard my voice, and he responded with decisive action.

In the Incarnation, the eternal God plunges into our world to save us.

I see God like that. He knows us, loves us and hears us. In the Incarnation, the eternal God plunges into our world to save us. I got lost in a maze of darkness and could not get out. Christ is like the great hero, rushing into the cold and dark to save us.

I was trapped but not powerless. I called for help. My dad rescued me and offered a loving reprimand: “Why did you wait until dark to go in that maze?” Or, as Jesus said, “Do not sin again.” As our gaze turns from November hay to Advent wreaths, we call out to our Savior: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel! And ransom captive Israel!”

We get ourselves into our daily messes, but we cannot get ourselves out. God is bigger, stronger and wiser than we are. Jesus forgives sinners, heals the wounded and protects those in danger. He exhibits bravery and courage in laying down his life for others. Firefighters rush into burning buildings to save children. Both of my grandfathers served in World War II to protect their own families and our nation. “No greater love has any man than this: to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13).

There is courage and wisdom in receiving help when we need it. Strong fathers like mine are similar to Christ—living models of God’s strength and compassion. They form us to share that strength with others, helping them to be strong, too.

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