Weekly HomilyArchives

Friday, December 07, 2007

“When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?’” (Matthew 11:2-3)

“SOUL-SURFING” – December 16, 2007
Third Sunday of Advent
(Matthew 11:2-11)
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

The cat and mouse game: it’s my daily experience in the parking garage at Albany Medical Center. And I’m always the mouse, always. When I arrive at the hospital at 6 AM, there are loads of parking spaces, but by the time I leave at mid-day, the 6-tiered garage is often completely full. Frustrated newcomers to the garage drive in slow circles round and round waiting for a space to open up. As soon as they see me emerge from the elevator at level 3, obviously leaving the hospital, they converge. I’ve become their target. Emotionally drained from hours with the ailing, I’m never quite up to the energy needed to endure being stalked like this. It’s been going on for 5 years now, and it still unnerves me. While the hospital recently announced plans to expand its parking facility with the construction of another 6-tiered garage adjacent to the present one, it’s still a good 2 years off. And so I am stalked, the aggressors wanting not me but my parking space, a rare treasure indeed at mid-day.

While I do take some pleasure in recounting my piteous tale of being stalked, I’ve rarely given much thought to what it feels like to be the stalker, the driver of the other car who has hurried to the hospital with some urgency and then can’t park. I’m humbled to admit that I’ve given little attention to the desperation of the driver who has little choice but to circle the garage until someone leaves. All that waiting for someone to appear with just what the other needs: and in this case, we’re only talking about a parking space.

But that’s the very theme of today’s gospel passage: finally finding what we have searched for with such desperation. John the Baptist asked Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3) At first it may seem unsettling that even John the Baptist didn’t recognize Jesus as God’s Own Son. Then again, I can take some comfort in the realization that I often can’t recognize the Jesus who has promised to be with me all the time, in every circumstance of my life, as party to my every human encounter. If even John the Baptist had trouble recognizing Jesus, I guess it’s okay that I too have trouble.

Finding that for which we’ve long searched: that’s the trick. We can spend whole lives driving in circles, endlessly searching out our niche, that particular place to which God has called me, that particular place where I am destined to use my talents to make the world a better place. Indeed, when I do find my parking space in this world, it’s there that I become the very hands and heart of Jesus, God reaching out through me to touch others. I had such an experience last month, a terrifying 20 minutes where God used me for good though I had absolutely no consciousness of it. Actually, I thought of little more than saving myself from claustrophobic suffocation as 12 of us were stuck on a hospital elevator.

A Thursday morning at 7 AM, shift change time, and the dozen of us had boarded a ground floor elevator for points upward. After an uneventful lift-off, the elevator jerked to a sudden stop between floors, doctors, nurses and a lone chaplain (me) wondering what had happened. After several minutes, laughter and jokes turned to worried anxiety, cell phones pulled from pockets informing nursing units awaiting nurses and operating rooms awaiting doctors that we were trapped. Five minutes into our imprisonment, with the temperature rising dramatically and fresh air becoming scarce, humored inconvenience turned to something more serious. As the oldest occupant of the elevator and also now the spiritual leader of the entrapped, I suppose I ought to have maintained a calm, reassuring presence, maybe joking about adversity being an opportunity for strengthening the spirit. Or maybe I could have led off a song-fest with “Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.” But since none of the other 11 seemed yet willing to get desperate, I did it for them.

Excusing my way from the back of the stalled car to the very front, I first tried to pry open the door. No luck. So, I began to yell as loud as I could, “HELP!” I screamed. “WE’RE SUFFOCATING IN HERE! HELP! HELP!” I kept up the volley of desperation for about 30 seconds, all the while a young doctor pressing the elevator’s emergency bell in what he thought was the S-O-S distress code. Just then, a rescuer’s voice was heard from outside, “Shut up in there! We’re working on the problem.” But I kept screaming and the doctor kept ringing his S-O-S. Eventually we were freed, all of us now drenched in sweat and deliriously happy to breathe the sweet air of a hospital corridor.

A day later, one of the nurses who’d been trapped on the elevator stopped me in a corridor. “Thank you for getting so hysterical,” she said. “I would’ve been too embarrassed to yell like you did.” And in the days following, several others also caught me to offer thanks. “I never thought a priest would have an anxiety attack!” proclaimed one. Said another, “I really had to go to the bathroom. Thanks for making such a scene.”

The waiting of Advent continues. And today we hear John the Baptist asking Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Matthew 11:3) And I am still being stalked in the Albany Medical Center parking garage, desperate drivers wondering: Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another? While I still hate being stalked, I now realize that I can be the one who ends the waiting for another. I can be the one who delivers God’s mercy. I can even be the one who, with shrill, hysterical screams, frees those held in suffocating captivity. Indeed, as we wait, he’s already among us.

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