Mary: Service Above Self

The following is a summary of Deacon Dan’s homily for December 18, 2011 – the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

I was a member of the St. Louis Rotary Club for almost 15 years. If you’re not familiar with Rotary, it is an international humanitarian service organization of business and professional leaders in a world-wide community. Their motto is “Service Above Self.”

I was taught, as a Rotarian, that if a fellow Rotarian approached you with a request, you responded: “The answer is ‘yes.’ What’s the question?” We tried to be open to service (above self) no matter what the conditions. This is a tradition that has inspired people for over 100 years.

In today’s Gospel, we hear of another positive response that has inspired people for over 2,000 years. We hear Mary’s beautiful response to the angel, “I am a handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

This is my favorite passage from the Bible. To me, it summarizes how we are called to live our lives as Christians:

  • To be open to God’s invitations in our lives
  • To trust that God has a plan for us (one that is greater than our limited view allows)
  • To think about others – outside of and above ourselves

The Four-Way Test

As I reflected on today’s readings I was reminded of the Rotary Club and what Rotarians call “The Four-Way Test.” In all they think, say or do in their professional (and personal) lives, Rotarians are encouraged to use these four questions as part of their discernment and decision-making process:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

The Four-Way Test is a good way to help make decisions. As I prepared for today’s homily , I thought how Mary might apply the Four-Way Test to what she experiences in today’s Gospel reading. So, play along with me as we break open the Word.

Question 1: Is it the TRUTH?

Mary experienced something quite unique in the Bible.

  • The Bible only mentions three Angels by name: Gabriel (the angel named in today’s Gospel) Raphael and Michael.
  • When angels interact and speak with humans, it’s not of their own doing. They are sent by God.
  • In fact, the word “angel” in Greek means “messenger.”

So, recognizing that it was an angel addressing her, Mary had to know that what he was speaking was the truth.

  • Mary was favored by God
  • She was chosen (by God) to be the Mother of His Son

In this story, the question isn’t whether the Angel is telling the truth. The question is how would Mary respond to the truth – this remarkable invitation from God to participate in Creation History.

Question 2: Is it FAIR for all concerned?

It doesn’t seem “fair” that God would ask so much of one person as he did of Mary (a young, unwed virgin who, if she allowed God’s plan to play out and she bore God’s child, exposed herself to (at a minimum) public humiliation and (at a maximum) to be stoned to death according to Jewish Law.

But I think that is just our earthly, human understanding of what the word “fair” means. To better understand the term “fair” we need to look at today’s First Reading (from the Book of Samuel):

  • In this story, King David didn’t think it was fair that he should live in a nice house while the ark of God dwelt in a tent. King David wanted to do something about that.
  • The prophet, Nathan, knows what is on David’s mind (to build a more fitting house for God to dwell in)
  • God speaks to Nathan in a dream and tells him: “Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD; Should you build me a house to dwell in?’”
  • Then God reminds David how God has taken care of him for all of his life, and how God will continue build David’s family and his kingdom.

As human’s we often have difficulty understanding what is “fair.” We tend to view fairness from our personal and limited perspective:

  • It doesn’t seem “fair” when a loved one dies unexpectedly
  • It doesn’t seem “fair” when someone loses their job without notice
  • It doesn’t seem “fair” when a person is forced leave a committed marriage relationship because of an abusive spouse

We will only know what is truly “fair” in life when we finally see God face-to-face and He is fully-revealed to us. Until then, we have to keep believing – to have faith in God.

I think Mary understood that. I think Mary, because of her love and firm faith, was willing to take a longer view of the situation. As we heard in the First Reading, God was honored that David was willing to do more than God required, but all God wants us to do is what he asks.

That’s what Mary did. And she is a good model for us to follow.

Question 3: Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS

As a dedicated servant of God, Mary understood the power and importance of having a strong relationship with God. I am certain, that as one who loves God, Mary had a strong prayer life. I am certain she communicated with God regularly and wanted to grow closer to him. I am certain Mary and God had a good relationship.

Mary’s consent to God’s request helped build goodwill and better their friendship. The same is true of us when we take time to pray, to grow in relationship with God and to be open to God’s will in our lives.

Question 4: Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Any time we participate in God’s plan, it is beneficial to us. Any time we respond positively to God’s call, it honors and pleases God Any time we choose to serve God and our fellow man, we do so for the benefit of all (“service above self”).

And that’s what Mary chose to do. By her “yes,” she transformed the whole world

  • She was an active participant in salvation history
  • She became the first disciple and the premier model of faith

By Mary’s “yes,” Evil was crushed and we have all received new life. A “new life” we will celebrate this coming week at Christmas.


So what do we learn from all of this? What are our “take-aways” from today’s readings? I think it’s simple:

  1. We need to keep praying to grow closer to God
  2. We need to be open to what God is asking of us in our lives
  3. We need to be willing to be like Mary, our Mother and our model
  • To humbly accept who we are – Beloved children of God, handmaids of the Lord
  • To be willing to say “yes” to God
  • To trust and to honor God in all that we say, think and do

May God bless you and yours abundantly this Christmas Season!

Deacon Dan

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

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