Being on a "Need-to-Know" Basis

Before ordination to the priesthood, I served full time as a deacon in Saint Agnes Cathedral parish. At that time, were had a full eighteen-month internship before our first priesthood assignment. All of my classmates assumed, because I lived with the bishop (at that time Bishop McGann), that I would have insider's knowledge of where we all going to be assigned as priests. I quickly found out how wrong my classmates were. The morning after the personnel board meeting at which the assignments were made for the newly ordained, I kept asking the bishop if he would tell me where I was being sent. After two or three times of ignoring the question, Bishop McGann looked up at me over his reading glasses and said, "At your ordination, you promised me obedience and respect." That ended that conversation in short order.

I guess I don't like to be on a "need to know" basis because I discover that, for the most part, people who are in the know have already decided that, in fact, I don't need to know. Knowing what lies ahead can give us the ability to prepare for the outcome and even alleviate fear or anxiety -- or so we think. Yet, as look back on the assignment that I did receive when I was first ordained, knowing about it ahead of time would not have prepared me for anything. It would have only created more anxiety about an outcome that I could not change. So, maybe it is better to be on a "need to know" basis.

In today's gospel, John is giving testimony about the baptism of Jesus. Repeatedly in his recounting what took place, John says, "I did not know him." That affirmation seems rather strange coming from the mouth of the Baptist -- after all, weren't John and Jesus somehow related? Why shouldn't John have known ahead of time that his very relative would be the promised one, the one who would come to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire? Why did John, of all people, need to be kept in the dark about all of this?

I guess John was placed by God on a "need-to-know" basis. All John needed to know is that the person upon whom the Holy Spirit would come down would be the One. Were John to have been given the entire blueprint as to how the salvation of the world would enfold and the importance of his role, there would be little need on John's part to become attentive to the Spirit. Putting John on a "need to know" basis was God's way of keeping him as a fully engaged participant in the events that would unfold.

God so desires that we too be actively engaged in the unfolding of his plan, and so, for God, it is so important that we not know everything -- that we trust, and with open heart and expectant spirit, await what he is to accomplish in us and for us. Yes, Lord, I do not need to know everything -- all I need is to trust that everything is in your loving hands.

Something New? God Forbid!

I am not comfortable with the fact that computers are always offering me a software update. Do you have the latest version of Windows -- or Mac OS X? The new updates promise so much but can terribly slow down your existing computer hardware to an agonizing crawl. Please don't tell me I have to update -- I just don't like change.

Change of any sort is not comfortable - and I dare say few of us embrace change with enthusiasm. A new school, a new neighborhood, a new job, a new position, new procedures, even a new version of Microsoft Word. All of
these changes can easily unsettle us because we have gotten used to dealing with the old. The old way is comfortable -- it's familiar turf through which I can navigate without thinking.

Of course we can recognize the lack of enthusiasm on the part of King Herod when he is told by the astrologers from the East that there is a newborn King of the Jews. As we hear in the gospel today, When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." Now, I can understand why Herod would be troubled -- after all, there is a new contender to the throne. Herod stands to lose power and prestige in short order. That kind of change is not something that would be welcomed by the existing monarch.

But, why are the people of Jerusalem troubled by the news of a new King? Well, the people of Jerusalem were understandably comfortable with Herod who pragmatically was able to create a workable partnership with the Roman Empire. Herod was able to maintain the status quo with the
conquering overlords of Rome, and so no one's way of life was disturbed. Business was able to be conducted and prosperity maintained in such a way that everyone was content. A new king could change all that!

Meanwhile, astrologers from the east make a great sacrifice in order to welcome this newness. Maybe their extravagant gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh were symbolic of their enthusiastic embrace of the promise that this king-in-the-making would bring about the needed change in their life. In short, their journey is a journey from self-centered smugness to sacrificing their comfort in order to achieve something greater in their life.

We begin a new year -- and at least we pay lip service for the desire to change as we make our lists of resolutions for 2017. But, are we willing to make the sacrifices that change demands? Are we willing to even admit that the old way just doesn't work for me anymore? Are we tired of making concessions to an old way of life because we are afraid that if we begin anew, we may have to start from square one -- once again? The old way seems so much easier -- we can maneuver through it blindly. Dare we open
our eyes to see a star that may guide us into a glorious new direction in our life?

What do you treasure in 2016?

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart. For the Blessed Mother, so much happened in such a short time. Journeying to Bethlehem, looking for a place to stay, giving birth to a son, being visited by shepherds who were sent by angels -- all these dramatic events unfold in such short order. Finally, when it is all over, Mary takes the time to reflect and ponder the meaning of these events in her heart.

What are the treasures of 2016 which you will keep in your heart and reflect upon in the coming new year? When I hear those words, I immediately have the image of sitting in front of a large pile of stuff, and I go through each thing, piece by piece, and I evaluate each event declaring whether it is worth keeping or not.  The things I want to keep and treasure are fairly obvious: successes, good times, the new friends that I have made. These are the special blessings I hope to carry with me into the new year.

But what is it that I am so quick to toss? We look at the moments of stress in the last year – stress related to coping with an illness whether personally or the illness of a family member or a friend. Or maybe it is the grief of having lost someone. Or maybe it’s some kind of failure that happened when some venture didn’t turn out the way we would have hoped. Maybe there is a list of regrets resulting from bad choices. Maybe there are the hurts of broken relationships – maybe there are a list of people with whom I was talking at this time last year that I am not talking to today!  Now as you look at this pile we say, there is nothing here worth holding onto. I want to slam the cover of the book closed and say, “Good riddance. I’m glad that 2016 is over.” 

However, Mary is being held as a model for us on this new year’s day to say to us that  everything is worth treasuring.

  • Don’t be so fast to get rid of grief – because grief is the measure of love and the longing to be reunited in the Kingdom of God. Grief is a trophy that speaks of a love that is real.
  • Don’t be so fast to get rid of regrets. Past mistakes are trophies that tell us that at least we had the courage to try. Even if we failed, even if we made a bad choice, at least we had the courage to make an attempt.
  • Don’t be so fast to get rid of the memories of getting over a serious illness – or even dealing with the illness of a loved one. Sometimes, it’s in those moments of illness that we most clearly see the hand of God, the power of God, the strength of God.
  • Don’t be so quick to get past the hurts of a broken relationship. There were treasures even in those relationships which need to be held onto. There were ways in which we were touched by those people.

Take the time to reflect – perhaps there are more treasures than we realize!