Saturday, December 19, 2009

Interrupted (2009-12-20, Advent)

This is my homily for December 20, 2009, Fourth Sunday of Advent. Feel free to respond with comments. View the Mass readings at:

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[___01.] I think this conversation took place in 1998. I recall where I was working at the time. And, I had a pager. Many of us had pagers. Remember, pagers?

You would call someone, enter your number. Then, the person would call you back. But, at that time, cell phones were starting to come out. And, in this 1998 conversation, some co-workers and I asked each other: could you do without a cell phone? People were starting to buy them. We asked each other: can you do without one?

Yes, I can do without one.

Yes, I can do without one.

We all said, yes, we could do without one. And, no, we would not buy one.

At the time, even the president of the United States did not have his own cell phone.

Consider what was on the news around the time of the election and inauguration of President Obama. It was the Presidential Blackberry.

The President wanted to keep his Blackberry so that he could text and call and e-mail friends and family as an ordinary American. He did not want to surrender this to the Secret Service.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness with a calling plan. This the age we *now* live in.

But, back in 1998, you and the president and I were doing fine without cell phones. However, if were to call the president, you would have to go through the White House switchboard. How antiquated!

In this 1998 conversation, we all agreed we would not get cell phones because there were too many interruptions.

Now, we accept these interruptions as the normal course of events. Maybe I broke a campaign promise by getting a cell phone.

It’s hard to recall life without one.

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[___02.] I bring this up because our reading of Mary and Elizabeth in the Gospel this Sunday is also about -- interruptions.

Both of them have prior commitments.

Both are expecting children.

Elizabeth is expecting; she will give birth to John the Baptist: her prior commitment.

Mary is expecting; she will give birth to Jesus, our Savior: her prior commitment.

Yet, these two expectant mothers find time to support each other, to love each other. Their affection is on public display, revealed for all to see.

And, this is a message to us for Christmas and every day.

The birth of a child, the care of a child, the care of an unborn child will involve some unexpected calls and messages.

Mothers and fathers and teachers and those who care for young people know this quite well. We accept interruptions and we do things that do not always win us public recognition.

We used to think cell phones were for celebrities and cardiac surgeons. Now, people of every profession and background use cell phones. Everyone accepts interruptions.

And, we are called to accept these interruptions lovingly.

Accepting the interruption lovingly has something to do with our outlook. That is, do I regard each interruption as a heavy burden?

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[___03.] In the Gospel, Jesus says:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Do we profess faith in the words?

We often think of the “profession of faith” as something that happens at Mass after the sermon. But, it happens when you pick up the phone, answer the door, or respond in any way. We don’t simply make a profession of faith in a prayer at Mass but also in our actual behavior at home, school, work.

This profession happens each day that we try to see life’s interruptions as a light burden. This was what Mary and Elizabeth tried to do.

The Lord knows we have interruptions.

It takes prayer and meditation to believe that his yoke is easy and his burden is light.

Yet, we say yes. When a mother picks up a crying child, she is saying that both her baby is light and his burden is light as well.

Every time a mother goes to comfort a crying child, she stands and professes faith in these Gospel words.

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[___04.] This time of year we are also concerned about visible gifts, rewards, and academic grades too.

We wonder: what will be under the Christmas tree? Will I receive a good grade? Will I be recognized? Will I be recognized for all the interruptions which touch my life?

And, Jesus goes on to say in the Gospel:

"take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them ...

[In other words, to give is to receive…]

do not blow a trumpet before you ... But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you." (Matthew 6 : 1 - 4)

This time of year, we recall that when we give, we receive. And, not all of our gifts will be noticed by our friends or family or classmates. That does not mean they are not worth giving.

We will be repaid some other way.

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[__05.] Do we allow ourselves to be interrupted?

Mary and Elizabeth, in the Gospel, are discovering that their priority is the other person. Put the other person first.

John the Baptist whose mother is Elizabeth will also testify to this. And, he summarizes this testimony with the words:
“He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

John the Baptist will testify to Jesus’ primacy, saying of Jesus: "I am not worthy to untie his sandals" And, John says off Jesus, "He must increase and I must decrease."

John will accept – as Mary does – that Jesus comes first not as an interruption but as a fulfillment. “He must increase, I must decrease.”

It also what Mary and Elizabeth are doing for each other. Each has her own priorities. Yet, they say to the other, “she must increase; I must decrease.”

This is also what husbands do for their wives who are expecting children. It is what parents and teachers do for children. In many relationships, we are also called to consider, how can we put the other person first? How can I decrease so that you may increase?

How can I accept interruption lovingly?

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[___06.] This is also the message of Christmas, of the Savior who is born and gradually over time, increasing physical and mental and spiritual ability.
He will increase.

Recalling his birth, we know that Jesus is the tiny infant, in a cave at Bethlehem. And, Ronald Knox a British spiritual writer notes that we must bow our heads to enter the cave at Bethlehem.

Knox writes: "There is headroom in the cave at Bethlehem for everyone who knows how to stoop."

We bow our heads in humility not only on December 25, but every day. When we bow down and bend down to see him, and when we bend down to serve him and each other, we decrease and he increases. This is our prior commitment. This is how we respond to God’s call, his interruption, his fulfillment.


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