Homily – December 4, 2011 – Unlikely Prophets
Note: This homily was delivered by Betsy Rowe-Manning, the Parish Life Director of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY.
I have spent most of my life along Route I-90: Ilion, Syracuse, Albany, Schenectady, Herkimer, and Utica. Consequently I have driven thousands of miles back and forth along the Thruway. Prior to using E-ZPass, paying the toll signaled the end of the trip.
And whenever I pulled in to a toll booth, I was ready. How I hated to hold up the next car while I fumbled for money and, even better, I always tried to have the exact change! On one particular day my efforts were not in vain as the toll collector at Exit 35 noticed and said: “ Thanks, this is great – the exact change.” What an affirmation! My family lives near Exit 35 and so, from then on, I always looked for that certain toll collector whenever I visited. It was easy to spot him in the line of booths as he had pure white hair. I sought him out both coming and leaving Syracuse – picking up the ticket.
And as you might suspect, our interchanges continued way beyond comments on my neurotic exactitude. “Have a nice visit,” “You look tired—hope you’re not working too hard.” “Be careful, looks like snow.” “See you on the way back.” I could always count on him for a good word and, consequently, I always looked forward to seeing him. Who would have thought – a toll collector – an everyday herald of glad tidings.
He was, in a real sense, a prophet, YET in direct opposite of the rugged John the Baptist – as Mark recounts in today’s beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. John, like Elijah before him, was a character bigger than life, who wore rough clothing, preferred strange and usual food and proclaimed the coming of the Lord with such gusto that scores of people, the whole of Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem responded. How quickly though John turns the focus from himself to the one who will bring with him the Spirit of God.
Even today we have John and Elijah style “bigger than life” prophets in our midst who proclaim the Gospel message of God’s presence: GOD IS HERE –the world’s wealth should by equally distributed. GOD IS HERE –let us respect our earth. GOD IS HERE be attentive to rights of the poor. GOD IS RIGHT HERE our church should be inclusive – all men, all women. For these bold and courageous women and men, I am, and I’m sure you are, grateful.
What about the everyday, unlikely prophets who proclaim that GOD IS HERE . Not the coming of, but the presence of Christ in our world, reminding others that because of the incarnation – goodness abounds.
Sometimes they/you speak the words of prophesy tenderly and the words give comfort: good job, thanks for taking the time, I never thought of that, thank you.
Sometimes you proclaim Christ’s presence through words of kindness or affirmation.
Sometimes others experience Christ’s presence in our patience with one another, our accompanying another through a difficult time, our openness and acceptance of another’s point of view.
And sometimes, the prophecy is simple hospitality, acknowledgement and care.
Let’s not hesitate to recognize and appreciate the prophets who herald the glad tidings to us. I’m thinking of the kind woman who is a cashier at the Madison Avenue Price Chopper, or the driver who signals me to turn in heavy traffic, our hospitality ministers, our readers, those who visit our sick and homebound, our catechists and choir members, our liturgical ministers, food pantry workers and giving tree organizers.
After I got a Thruway permit, the stage on the way to E-ZPass, I once watched the Syracuse version of the TABLE OF THE LORD [the televised Mass] one Sunday. St. Margaret’s, Mattydale, NY was on the TV Eucharist that day. My white haired toll collector did the first reading! The pastor told me his name was John Flannery and gave me his address. I wrote a note to John to thank him for his kind words whenever I drove through Exit 35. John and I exchanged cards at Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day for a number years. John died in 1994, but, for me, he will always be John, the Thruway Prophet, heralding the presence of Christ in the everyday.
Who are the prophets in your life?