Our prayers are with all WCU students during exam week. Please join me in praying for the intercession of St. Nicholas, whose feast day was yesterday. In addition to being the real-life inspiration for Santa Claus, he is also one of several patron saints of students. (So if you are wondering what to ask Santa for this year, feel free to ask him for a little help on your exams). A reminder that we are not having small groups, or our Wednesday dinner this week. We will be doing Community Table service this Tuesday from 3:30-6:00 for those who can join us. And the chapel at the Catholic Student Center will be open continuously during exam week for anyone who needs a quiet prayer space. Please take advantage of it. I hope to see you all at our final Mass of the semester this afternoon at 4:00pm.
"Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths." We receive this imploring message twice in today's readings. First we hear it from the prophet Isaiah and then again from the evangelist Mark at the very beginning of his gospel. "Prepare the way of the Lord!"
SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT (B)
|St. John the Baptist|
Mark is quoting from Isaiah (and elsewhere in the Old Testament) as an introduction to John the Baptist. John is the forerunner of the Christ and the last in the long line of prophets who were, each in their own way, preparing the world for His coming. John is rather a rugged figure. Isaiah had said, "In the desert prepare the way of the Lord," and that is just what John had done. He lived in the desert (the gospel rather mysteriously says "he appeared in the desert"), wore camel's hair and ate locusts. Yum. Icons of John traditionally have him looking rather like a cave man. He was a wild, untamed figure, devoted entirely to preparing the way for Christ.
When we hear someone telling us to "prepare the way of the Lord! He is coming!", especially when that person looks admittedly a bit crazed to us, we think of the doom and gloom prophets, standing on the street corner holding signs that say, "The end is near!" And maybe we don't pay much attention to those people. Or maybe they fill us with a sense of unease or even dread. "You better repent of your sins and get right with God," they warn. "Do it now because He is coming! Your time is drawing short!"
Last week I mentioned the bumper sticker that reads, "JESUS IS COMING (quick, everyone look busy)." It is meant to be funny, but as I mentioned last week, there is truth to it. But there is also a danger to the attitude it expresses. Do we think of the coming of Christ as something like the boss coming down to the factory floor, ready to fire any employee not performing adequately? Like a teacher entering the classroom just itching for a reason to send students to detention? Or like a parent coming home ready to punish any child who has misbehaved during the day? Many of us, no doubt, do think about the day of the Lord's coming with a bit of fear and trepidation. We know we are sinners. We know we have failed to love as we ought. And we fear God's judgment at His coming.
But if that is where we leave it, we are neglecting the most important part of the message. John preached repentance, but he also preached forgiveness. He was identifying the illness because he knew One was coming after him with the cure. This is good news.
When Isaiah was telling people to "prepare the way of the Lord," the context was not fear and trembling, but comfort and tenderness. Today's reading begins "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem..." (Is 40:1). The passage ends with a description of the Lord-to-come as a gentle shepherd feeding his flock, gathering his lambs, and "leading the ewes with care" (Is 40:11). That's not a frightening image. This is good news.
When Isaiah describes how we are to prepare the way for the Lord, he tells us to make a straight highway. Fill in the valleys and make low the mountains. We are to make a plain out of rugged land. What Isaiah is telling us to do is to remove obstacles. Valleys, mountains and rough terrain make travel difficult. They present obstacles to reaching our destination. If we are to make a path to the Lord we need to get rid of any obstacle between ourselves and Him.
What are those obstacles that stand between you and the Lord? Not literal mountains and valleys. So what, then? Sin? Does sin present an obstacle between you and God? No, not even sin! Christ has conquered sin (1 Cor 15:57). Christ offers forgiveness, the remedy to sin, which John reminds us of today. So what, then? What obstacle stands between us and Christ, if not sin? The only obstacle between us and the Lord is our own unwillingness to repent from our sins. That is the valley we must fill in. That is the mountain we must lay flat. God does not force forgiveness upon us. We must ask for it and open our hearts to receive His love. And God so desperately wants us to do that.
St. Peter gives us in today's second reading some of the most comforting words in all of scripture. "The Lord... is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." When you feel downtrodden, when you feel worthless, or when you fear God's judgment and doubt His forgiveness, remember this. God wants you to get to heaven. He wants you there with Him! St. Peter tells us "Therefore beloved, since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before Him, at peace" (2 Pt 3:14).
So prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight a path for Him in your heart. Search your soul, examine your conscience, repent of your sins and receive His forgiveness. Make Confession part of your Advent this year, especially if you have not been in a while. God wants you to get to heaven, and so does your priest. Have no fear of the confessional, because God is waiting for you there, patiently, ready with His forgiveness. This is good news.
Prepare. Repent. Be at peace.
EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE
To prepare for the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession) it helps to first examine your conscience, identifying your sins, so that you may repent of those things and "make straight His paths." An examination of conscience is an excellent tool to help you prepare for a good confession. There are many available. Click here for one that is recommended for college students by the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS). Or, click here for a shorter one that would make a good daily exercise to help you live each day in the light of Christ's love. (You can print it out and keep a copy in your Bible, or tape it up by your bedside). There are many others available (just Google "examination of conscience"), but the point is to get in the habit of regularly examining your soul so that you can identify early on any obstacles you may be throwing up between you and God, so that you may always keep the path between you and Christ open and clear.