Category Archives: Discernment

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.

Lessons Re-Learned from a Wise Man

Note: This blog originally posted June 23, 2009. It is being re-posted to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the passing of our dear friend and mentor, Rev. Jim Krings.

One of my fondest memories of Rev. James A Krings occurred at a Youth Mass several years ago. Prior to the Gospel, Fr. Krings encouraged us to listen closely to the words and to see if there was anything new that jumped out. I dutifully obliged and listened intently as he proclaimed the Gospel of Matthew about the visit by the Magi.

During his homily, Fr. Krings asked if anyone had heard anything new as they listened to this familiar reading. No one responded; the church was quiet, so I raised my hand and said, “Yes, I don’t think I ever heard the wise men referred to as “the old magi.” Fr. Krings paused for a moment, looked at me with confused look on his face, placed his glasses on his face, and returned to the ambo to consult the scriptures.

After a few seconds, he looked up from the Book of the Gospels, took off his glasses, smiled, and asked me “do you think maybe what you heard was ‘beHOLD’ Magi, not ‘the old’ magi?” My wife looked at me with one of those “you just had to open your mouth” looks and I sank down into the pew and felt like a Southwest Airlines commercial: “You wanna get away?” It was embarrassing, but quite funny!

The magi are also referred to as “wise men” which is what I have learned to appreciate Fr. Krings to be. He has a great gift of spirituality and continues to be a blessing to our community.

We had a prayer service for Fr. Krings last night that was well attended by at least 300 people. As we planned the prayer service I debated how to handle the prayer intentions. In formation, they suggested we never allow people to offer their own intentions during Mass as in doing so such prayers often get off target and become personal instead of being “universal” as intended. The model I was using to prepare the prayer service suggested leaving the prayer intentions open to those in attendance and to encourage them to pray for the groups and ideals that were important in the life of the person for whom the prayer service was being held. I followed the latter suggestion and held my breath when we got to that part of the service. I soon became overwhelmed by the outpouring of thankfulness expressed in the prayers of those who spoke up. It made me realize that we only see a microcosm of a person in our relationship with them, and that there are many (often wonderful) aspects of a person that we never get to experience.

Fr. Krings touched many lives in many ways. I realized last night that my understanding of the man is limited. I have so much to learn from this “wise” man.

What Do You Want To Be Remembered For?

I read an article today by Dr. Peter Drucker, the world-renowned management consultant. In the article Drucker recalls a time in school when his teacher asked the class: “What do you want to be remembered for?” The teacher looked at the faces of the young boys in the class and told them: ““I didn’t expect you to be able to answer [the question]. But if you still can’t answer by the time you’re fifty, you will have wasted your life.”

I think this is an excellent question to ask yourself to help gain perspective in your life, your relationships, and the how you use your God-given talents. The fifty year cutoff, however, makes me scratch my head a little.

I agree with the teacher in that we need to be planning for our future but should focus more on what we will become, not what we will be remembered for. Our earthly life is a transition. It is a time for growing; growing as a human being in relationship with others, growing in relationship with God, and growing in our ability to identify and use our strengths to serve others. Our time on earth is a time to prepare ourselves for our ultimate destination: heaven.

I’d hate to think that someone who hasn’t “figured out” their ultimate destination by the age of 50 will be excluded from heaven. I agree that the more time we delay in understanding our call to love and serve our God, the more time we have lost being able to love and serve God’s people. But with God, all things are possible, and it is never too late to change your life.

Remember the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus? One thief continued his evil ways, even chastising our Lord in his final hours on earth. But the other thief showed contrition and begged, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luke 23:42) And Jesus replied, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Yes, we can waste time by not fixing our sights on Jesus and his heavenly home. But it’s never too late to turn toward that destination. I think that in addition to asking ourselves “What do I want to be remembered for?” we should be asking ourselves “Where am I in my relationship with Jesus? Where am I on my journey? Is this where you want me to be, Lord?”

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

How Would Jesus Do It?

I had an epiphany of sorts this week. While reflecting on the readings for the memorial of Sts. Peter and Paul, I began to think of how two men who share the same feast day also share a common cause: building the Kingdom. But, while each man was journeying to the same destination, they each took different paths. Peter ministered to the Jews and Paul ministered to the Gentiles. Two men with a common goal but very distinct audiences and challenges.

I began to think about how I pray. For the first time in 28 years I am without a full time job. My prayer had been to ask Jesus “what” he wanted me to do with my life. That made me think about the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets that had been so popular. Then I thought: is my question really about “what” Jesus would do, or is it more about “how” Jesus would do it. Or, better yet, “how” Jesus would want ME to do it.

Like Peter and Paul, I have zeroed in on my target destination. I want to grow in holiness and use my skills as a deacon, as leader, and as an instructor to help others in their work. Having been exposed to working in a Catholic hospital for the past two months on a temporary assignment, I see how my skills and desires work well in such an environment. To paraphrase the Mission Statement for St. John’s Mercy Medical Center where I am working as a Credentialed Trainer, the best environment for me to work in is where I can “make a difference by touching the lives of those I serve with compassion and exceptional service.”

Maybe this is just semantics, but I think there is something to the idea of looking at the “how” and not the “what” in modeling the way of life Jesus taught us. I think it is worth praying about.

Yogi Berra is attributed as saying, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it!” There is more wisdom in that saying than you might think. On our Christian journey we may come to many forks in the road. Like Peter and Paul, we may have to choose which path to take to serve the Lord. We are committed to growing in our faith (i.e., we have bought into the “what”), now we need to work on the “how.” We need to take time in prayer, acknowledging that God talks to us every day. The message is not “follow me” (we’ve already committed to that). The message God sends, if we are willing to listen, can help us advance further on our journey toward our heavenly destination. The question is not “what” would Jesus have us do, but “how” he would have us do it.

For me, that means constantly plodding forward, keeping myself open to serving God in ways I never envisioned, and trusting that whenever I reach a fork in the road toward Jesus, I only have to listen with my heart to understand “how” Jesus wants me to proceed.