Homily: Permission to Question

December 20, 2020 – Fourth Sunday of Advent

Readings: 2 Samuel 7:1-16 / Romans 16:25-27 / Luke 1:26-38

I will be delivering the following homily at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis today (the audio version can be found at the end of this post):

When our oldest child, Mary, was around 4 years old, I remember taking her to the doctor for one of her regular check-ups. It was one of the visits that was going to require her to get a vaccination of some kind. Carol and I knew there would be a shot administered at this particular visit, so we did our best to prepare her during the week prior.

When the doctor came into the room, he joked with her a bit to try to distract her. However, Mary was not easily distracted. She knew he had a needle as well as what he intended to do with it.

When the time came for the shot, our sweet little Mary looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “Daddy, I don’t think I want to get a shot.”

Mary was a Daddy’s girl and my first instinct was to say, “OK!” and scoop her up and get her out of there.

But the responsible dad in me gave her a hug and said, “I know, but Mommy and Daddy love you very much and the medicine in this shot will help keep you safe.”

Continuing to melt my heart, she asked, “Will it hurt?”

Rather than go into a lengthy explanation, I simply said, “It might, but only for a little while.”

She looked at the doctor, closed her eyes and said, “OK”  – and got the shot.

Despite her fears and the uncertainty of what was about to happen, Mary proved to be both obedient and trusting.

As I read through today’s readings in preparation to preach, the word obedience kept running through my mind.

In our second reading from the Letter to the Romans, Paul addressed obedience when he wrote, “…the command of the eternal God is made known to all nations in order to bring about an obedience of faith.

This term, obedience of faith, offered me a lens through which to examine our gospel.

In the gospel, we heard the familiar story of The Annunciation. Mary was told that she would be the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. We heard Mary give voice to her obedience: “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

So, Part I of our examination of the gospel highlights Mary’s bold response to what was being asked of her. An authentic obedience of faith ultimately requires an unwavering, “Yes!” to the will of God.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, Mary most perfectly embodies the obedience of faith. By faith Mary welcomes the tidings and promise brought by the angel Gabriel, believing that “with God nothing will be impossible.” It is for this faith that all generations have called Mary blessed.

However, when obedience of faith is defined only by the “Yes!” we may find ourselves challenged. Is embracing an authentic obedience of faith even possible for us? If we were to receive mind-blowing instructions from an angel of God – instructions that would permanently alter the course of our lives – would we be able to say, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

To be accountable to the teachings of The Catechism means we are expected to maintain an obedience of faith. Isn’t that too much to ask of us? Yes, it is, IF we only define obedience of faith by the “Yes!”

However, there is more to an obedience of faith than that. Which brings me to Part II of our examination of the gospel.

Earlier this week, I received an email from my sister-in-law, Michele, in Florida. She wrote, “I had a strong persistent idea that I needed to share this with you” and included in her email a link to Matthew Kelly’s video series, Best Advent Ever.

I am so glad she did because it highlighted something in this gospel story to which I had not paid much attention. Matthew addressed the simple question Mary asked of the angel: “How can this be?”

He pointed out that maintaining an obedience of faith does not preclude us from asking questions. He said, and I quote, “Mary questions God in a way of absolute faith.”

It is possible to be obedient and have questions! This revelation allows those of us that have questions regarding our faith to be free of the guilt that often comes along with it.

The key, Matthew said, is the intent behind our question. What is the state of our heart?

Mary was told, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”

She did not respond, “That’s impossible!” Instead, her faith allowed her to accept it was possible because that is what the angel sent by God had told her. She trusted the word of God.

She accepted with faith, so her question came from a place of faith. “How can this be?” she asked. In other words, I accept that what you are telling me is true, can you give me more information? Can you lead me to a deeper understanding?

When my daughter needed to get that shot at the doctor’s office, she put her trust in me. She had faith that I would not allow it to happen unless it was in her best interest. Her question – Will it hurt? – was not intended to express disobedience or to help her escape the inevitable, but rather to help her prepare. She sought a better understanding of what was about to happen.

In addressing Mary’s “How can this be?” question, Matthew Kelly highlighted the difference between cynicism and skepticism. The cynic questions with a heart of disbelief. He is not seeking the truth because he desires to hold onto to his own version of the truth.

The skeptic questions with a heart that desires to know more, that seeks a deeper understanding of the truth.

Much is made of Mary’s bold “Yes!” to what God asked of her. She is the ultimate example of accepting the will of God. However, what is often overlooked in that significant scriptural moment is Mary’s simple question, “How can this be?”

We learn that a legitimate part of maintaining an obedience of faith is asking questions – digging deeper in the hope of a more complete understanding of the truth God places before us.

When we are challenged in life by what God calls us to do, how do we respond? Do we reject his plan for us? Do we say, “That’s impossible!”?

Or do we exhibit an authentic obedience of faith – accepting the will of God while at the same time seeking a deeper understanding? God does not demand blind obedience from us. We should feel comfortable asking questions intended to help us fulfill God’s plan for us – questions such as “Where do I begin?” or “How will I manage this?”

Like Mary, we have been given permission to ask questions boldly, with faith, in the sure and certain hope that God will reveal the answer in His own time.

If you would like to listen to this homily, click below:

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