December 21, 2014
Luke 1:26-38
Romans 16:25-27
2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26


from the book
Life Injections II
Further Connections Of Scripture To The Human Experience

Richard E. Zajac

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"Come after me and I will make you fishers of men."

A look at why it's important to ask.

The late Speaker of the House Thomas "Tip" O'Neill once told of a valuable lesson he learned early in his career. In 1935, during his very first political campaign, a neighbor told him: "I am going to vote for you tomorrow even though you didn't ask me to!" A shocked O'Neill replied: "Why, Mrs. O'Brien, I have lived across from you for eighteen years, I cut your grass in the summer, I shoveled your walk in the winter, I didn't think I had to ask for your vote." Mrs. O'Brien replied: "Tom, let me tell you something: people like to be asked!"

I found that out for myself just a few short months ago. I had attended the death of a patient here at Sisters Hospital, and the family asked that I preside at the funeral. The patient belonged to St. Ambrose Parish where I had been the associate pastor for some seven years and where I still help out on various occasions. The pastor is one of my closest friends. So I told the family that I'd take care of the arrangements with the church. I merely called St. Ambrose and told the secretary to tell the pastor that I would be presiding at the funeral.

When I arrived that morning at the church, the pastor was there to help me set up. He said to me: "You know I don't care about your taking a funeral here at any time. You can do anything you want in this parish, but it would be nice that instead of telling me, you asked me." I discovered then and there that Mrs. O'Brien was indeed right: people like to be asked.

When you give it a thought, there's much truth in that statement. Being asked is often heartwarming and often very uplifting. It's a sign of respect as well as one of courtesy. In many cases, being asked means being affirmed and recognized as someone of value and worth.

In my work as a priest, I have occasion to talk with people who have lost a husband or wife. They often tell me that one of the things that hurts the most is the fact that many of the couples, with whom they once associated, don't ask them out anymore. Maybe it's because they feel awkward asking or maybe they feel he or she will feel awkward being asked. But the fact is that by not asking they are sending a message that he or she doesn't belong, that he or she is someone no one wants to associate with anymore.

The elderly often experience much the same problem. As they get older, fewer people ask them to do things. Many times it's because people honestly feel that it might be too much for them, it might be more than they can handle, an honest concern. Unfortunately, however, not being asked sends a message that they are not needed anymore, not important anymore, not useful anymore.

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Interestingly enough, a similar case can be made for the very young. One of my favorite stories concerns a grandmother, a mother, and a little boy who walked into a restaurant and sat down to order. The waitress took the grandmother's order, then the mother's order, and then she turned to the little boy and asked: "What would you like?" The mother immediately said: "Oh, I will order for him." The waitress, without being overly rude, ignored the mother and again asked the little boy: "What would you like?" The mother once again spoke up: "I will order for him!" The waitress ignored her yet again and asked the little boy one more time: "What would you like?" "I would like a hamburger!" he stammered. "How would you like your hamburger?" asked the waitress. "Would you like it with onion, mustard, and the works?" His mouth now open in amazement, the boy said: "Yes, I would like the works!" The waitress went over to the window and she howled the grandmother's order, then the mother's order, and then in a loud voice she said: "And a hamburger with the works!" The little boy turned to his mother in utter astonishment and said: "Gee, Mommy! She thinks I am real!" That waitress, by asking the little boy what he wanted, provided him with status. The asking gave him recognition; it gave him a feeling of importance that he had never had before.

So whether it be a widow or widower, an elderly man or woman, a little boy or a little girl, they all bear out the truth of Mrs. O'Brien's remark to Tip O'Neill: "People like to be asked!" And, in their case, the asking is a matter of letting them know that they are not out of the mainstream of life, that they are not useless or irrelevant or unimportant. Asking them out, asking them to do something, personally asking them what their desires may be, carries significance often overlooked.

Then there's the matter of opening up doors to experiences of great enrichment, opening up doors of opportunity for excitement and satisfaction and fulfillment. Asking can do that as well.

I remember, when I was eighteen years old, my optometrist, Dr. Steven Gladysz (whose office was right next door to my father's store), asked me to coach the Assumption School baseball team. They needed a coach and he asked me if I'd take the job. I don't know what possessed me to say yes but I did. That began for me a fourteen-year odyssey as a baseball coach that sometimes involved the handling of four teams a season. I could talk until next year about some of the wonderful experiences I have had, the extraordinary people I have met. I presided over the marriages of a good many of the kids I coached. I baptized their babies and claim many of them as good friends.

As a result of coaching, my life has been enriched beyond measure and that wouldn't have been the case had my optometrist, Dr. Steven Gladysz, not asked me to coach the Assumption team. Looking back, had it not been advertised in the church bulletin that they needed a coach, I would not have volunteered. If I were told they were looking for a coach, I would not have volunteered. But because I was asked, I did. The asking opened for me a door to an experience of great enrichment, which I would have otherwise missed had I not been asked.

Many of you, I believe, can speak of similar experiences. I'm sure many of you can tell of how someone asked you to do something and how that something did for you and your life what baseball did for mine. That is why I often encourage people to ask others to help them or to ask others to participate in some cause because the asking could do for them what Dr. Steven Gladysz' asking did for me.

The Diocese of Buffalo, for the past several years, has implemented a program which is titled "Called by Name." It is a vocation recruitment program where men and women, priests and parishes send in names of those who they feel might make good priests or religious. Those named are asked to attend a meeting where they'd be introduced to the world of priesthood and religious life with the hope that they might give it some consideration. The program began because vocation directors came to discover that one of the reasons why many a man or woman never gave the priesthood or religious life a thought was because no one asked them to give it a thought. I'm embarrassed to say that I never asked anyone to give it a thought and I wonder if, by not asking, I might have kept someone from opening a door to a life that has been for me one of tremendous enrichment and fulfillment and satisfaction.

In the Gospel today, Peter, James, and John were asked by Jesus to take on the work of discipleship. That asking gave the three of them a life that they would have never realized or experienced had they not been asked. It opened for them a door to an unbelievable adventure they would never regret. As Mrs. O'Brien pointed out to Tip O'Neill, people like to be asked. That's not only because it gives the sense that they're important and needed and wanted but also because it gets them to consider an option which would otherwise not be considered, an option that could open for them a door to experiences they will cherish and love and never regret.

Then there's the matter of asking being a means of lessening the sting of a pain or hurt or tragedy. In a book, The Facts of Death1, Michael A. Simpson describes the "horse on a dining room table" syndrome. "At a dinner party," says Simpson, "a horse is sitting in the middle of the table but we all talk as if the horse weren't there. We fear the host will be embarrassed if it's mentioned at all. The host, in turn, doesn't refer to the horse lest it upset us!" Though it is ignored in conversation, the horse sits there as big as life in the middle of the table as well as in the center of our thoughts and minds during the duration of the dinner party.

You find that often occurring in places of work when someone who has lost a loved one returns to the job a few days after the funeral. No one asks them about the death. No one asks if they miss the one they lost. No one asks them anything pertaining to what is probably the worst thing that ever happened to them in their life. Those people would like to talk about the horse that's on the table. They'd like to vent some of the pain they are feeling. They'd like to know that there are people who care about how much they are hurting. But if no one asks, everything is left in the air, everything is kept inside, and everyone goes about his or her business doing one's darndest to avoid any mention of the horse that is sitting in the middle of the dining room table.

A somewhat similar thread runs through another common occurrence. John Powell, the Jesuit author, writes about it in a recent book2. He was presiding at Mass and when it came time for communion, he passed by a little boy who wasn't old enough to receive the Lord in the Eucharist. At the end of Mass, he happened to notice that the little boy had his lip protruding just a bit. Being asked by Powell if anything was wrong, the boy, after an initial denial, burst into tears and blurted out: "You passed me by at communion time because you don't like me!" John Powell was quick to assure him that he had it all wrong, that he liked him very much. He went on to explain to the boy that he first had to make his First Communion before he could receive the Lord in the Eucharist.

The whole event made Powell wonder about the damage he might have inflicted or the hurt that might have lingered had he not asked the boy if anything was wrong. How often has it happened that a parent, child, husband, or wife felt slighted or bruised by something that was said or done and, because no one asked if anything was wrong, the pain and hurt lingered and festered and stewed. This horse was sitting on the dining room table and they would have longed to talk about that horse but no one bothered to ask.

My friends, what Mrs. O'Brien said to Tip O'Neill was true -- people like to be asked. So make it a point to do more asking. Do it out of courtesy. Don't be as presumptuous as was Tip O'Neill with Mrs. O'Brien or myself with the pastor of St. Ambrose. Do it so that widows and widowers, so that elderly men and women, so that young boys or young girls might feel they are wanted and needed and that they matter. Do more asking so that like Peter, James, and John in today's Gospel or like me and baseball, people might be afforded the opportunity to do something they might have otherwise never done had they not been asked, something that will open for them a door to an adventure of unbelievable magnitude and satisfaction and fulfillment. Do more asking so that people won't have to keep quiet about the horse on the dining room table, the horse that's breaking their heart. Do more asking so that some little boy, little girl or men or women might be provided a voice for a slight or misunderstanding that might have otherwise festered inside. As Mrs. O'Brien told Tip O'Neill: People like to be asked! -- Don't forget that.


1. Michael A. Simpson, The Facts of Death: A Complete Guide for Being Prepared (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1979).

2. John Powell S.J., Solving the Riddle of Self (Allen, Texas: Thomas More Publishing, 1995).