Whenever we have something special to share with someone, we visit them in person if at all possible. Big things and little things, happy things and sad things.
Big things: How did you seminarians tell your parents that you believed that God might be calling you to become a priest? For some of you, it might have been kind of hard to do, and you didn’t know how they would react, so maybe you had them sit down and then you told them the exciting news. Maybe only to discover that they already saw it coming. Or maybe you were so nervous that you tried to be low-key and nonchalant, mentioning it kind of casually, slipping it into an unrelated conversation and hoping they wouldn’t react too strongly one way or another. Give you space.
In any event, we knew that our decision to respond to the Lord’s call was going to be one of the most important decisions of our whole life, so we planned in advance how to share that information with others — our family, our friends and our home parish.
I remember that right after I told the priest at the student center at the University of Oklahoma that I was ready to take the next step, I was so excited that I then made a hasty, unscheduled trip back home to break the news. In the language of today’s Gospel, I went “in haste.” My parents were less excited, but at least cautiously supportive. My mom had misgivings — she had known some unhappy priests and was fearful, especially because there was a lot of turmoil in the Church in those days. Indeed those were the years when a flood of priests left the ministry, many of them to get married, including in the previous year, one of the priests at our university chapel. This was 1974. But my parents were not surprised; they had seen it coming.
Was your experience similar? Anticipation and emotional preparation on our part, and then a hoped-for response, ideally of support and understanding?
In today’s Gospel, Mary has something special about her God-given vocation to share with Elizabeth. Big news in both of their lives. She’s really excited, so like me, she went “in haste,” in her case, to the hill country of Judah, to Elizabeth’s home — a long journey, especially for a young, pregnant girl apparently traveling alone. Then we have the emotional response of Elizabeth. She's really excited to see Mary. Even the baby leaps in her womb. And then they share each other’s news — Mary’s Annunciation and Elizabeth’s pregnancy. They share their fears and excitement. They give each other support and understanding.
Christmas is a time when families get together to share with each other. We share big things and little things, happy things and sad things. We share the joy of being together as a family. Catching up on things, seeing how the children have grown. We also share the sadness of remembering family members who have died and will not be with us this year. Or others who couldn’t make it. We feel the loss. We share gifts that express our love. But as we prepare to spend Christmas with our family and friends, we should remember to share also the biggest gift of all: our faith.
We express our faith in the Advent and Christmas Masses, in the celebration of posadas, in the nativity scenes we set up and in our Christmas cards. We express our faith in our prayers, especially before the Christmas meal. We express our faith in all the gestures of love we extend to family and friends — the real reason for Christmas.
Christmas will be here in just a few days. Already we feel much anticipation. My prayer is that this will be a time of real support and understanding for all of us. As the baby leaped in Elizabeth’s womb for joy, so also may all of us be blessed who believe that the Lord’s words to us, who also have responded to his call, will be fulfilled.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor delivered this homily to diocesan seminarians Dec. 19.
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