In our community we have a rule of thumb regarding unplanned and unassigned works - for lack of a better explanation: "An act of charity is anything that takes less than 5 minutes." Note: the "five minute" time frame varies between three minutes and fifteen minutes, depending upon who is asked! If we are asked to do something that would take longer than "an act of charity" or which might preclude one of our daily responsibilities, it is appropriate for us to get permission. This rule of thumb is not to limit our generosity in responding to the needs of our sisters, but to protect, in a sense, the time needed for the chores or works assigned to each of us.
In today's Gospel, Jesus is "interrupted" by a man whose daughter has just died. Jesus responds promtly and immediately follows the official to his home -- while pausing along the way to encourage the woman who was healed by the touch of his cloak (a drive-by miracle?). In the exchange between Jesus and the official we see an example of Jesus' willingess to be interrupted and to respond to the needs of those around him.
Perhaps for us a big challenge is not only responding to the needs of those around us -- and especially the unforeseen requests that may come our way -- but responding in a way that does not betray our inconvenience. Sometimes we genuinely want to help someone who asks us but other times, perhaps, we want to help someone only becuase we know it is the right thing to do. In the case of the latter we can be tempted to communicate our frustration at being interrupted. If this pitfall seems familiar, we might take heart and listen to the timeless advice of St. Francis de Sales in his conference on obedience which he gave to our early sisters. His words speak not only to the one who is asked to do an act of charity but to the one who has asked:
"Supposing, however, that a sister should ask us to do something, and that we, being taken by surprise, should show some repugnance to doing it, the sister must not take umbrage, nor even seem to notice it; neither must she beg us not to do what she had asked, for it is not in our power to prevent our color, our eyes, our behavior, from betraying the struggle going on within us, even while our reason consents to do the thing; for these are messengers who come unsummoned, and who, even when we bid them to depart, seldom do anything of the sort. Why, then, should this sister be unwilling to let me do what she had asked, simply because I show some repugnance to doing it? She ought to be glad that I should gain this profit for my soul."