Dec. 23: Did you hear?

Dec. 23: Third Saturday of Advent

And all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea (Lk 1:65).

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Several years ago, a poem appeared in the New Yorker, composed by the Italian Giovanni Pascoli and translated by the late, great Seamus Heaney, that reads: “In a huddle by the fence/ Neighbour women, hard at the usual talk: About so and so who could be whoever’s twin.”

This captures the essence of small-town gossip: the close-knit village, the chattering busybodies who mind everyone else’s business, the whispered transmission of the latest news. We have all experienced the potent force of such gossip and the ability of a crowd to exert its influence.

In Luke’s telling, the villagers come together to rejoice at the birth of Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s baby. But they also come to impose upon the parents the uncompromising claims of tradition: The new parents will call this baby after his father...won’t they? It must have taken courage for Elizabeth to stand up to the social pressure, her still-muted husband standing next to her, unable to lend support as she dares to choose an unorthodox name. Zechariah’s silence does not stop this crowd, though: They brush off the noncompliant Elizabeth and put the question to him nonverbally.

Zechariah has challenged God’s wisdom once before, and he is not about to do it again: He affirms that the baby’s name will not be crowd-sourced but will be “John,” as God wills it. Other people sometimes think they know our business better than we do, and it can be challenging to resist the pressure that comes with this. But through prayer and patient discernment, we can find the fortitude to follow God’s plan, not that of the neighbors.

Prayer: Lord of the villages, towns and cities, Help me put the expectations of others in their proper place and listen only for your guiding voice within. Amen.

For today’s readings, click here.

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