Pastor’s Column December 8—9, 2018
“A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord!’”
As some of you may know, I did my undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school located in the North Woods of New Hampshire. The school is located in the town of Hanover situated on the eastern bank of the Connected River which forms the border between the states of Vermont and New Hampshire. It is, as they say, in the middle of nowhere, roughly halfway between the civilized metropolitan areas of Montreal to the north and Boston to the south. And for a kid who was born and raised in Brooklyn, it was about as big a change of scenery as you could imagine. The school’s motto is, appropriately enough, “Vox clamantis in deserto,” or “A voice crying out in the desert.” And even more appropriately Aquinas House, the Catholic Student Center on campus, took for its own motto the completion of that phrase: “Prepare the way of the Lord!”
In our Gospel reading this weekend for this Second Sunday of Advent, St. Luke uses these very words from the prophet Isaiah to describe John the Baptist. He writes: “John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one crying out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” John the Baptist is a compelling figure for us to reflect upon this Advent season. He is the forerunner who heralds the coming of the Messiah, and he preaches a message of repentance and conversion. Conversion entails a radical reorientation of our desires, thoughts and actions. It involves a turning away from our tendency towards selfishness and the inclination to serve our own needs first, which is a result of our fallen human nature caused by original sin, and a turning towards the love and service of others. In religious terms, we call this a turning away from sin and a turning towards holiness and ultimately towards God, who is the source of all goodness.
In order to prepare the way of the Lord, we must first look to change ourselves. Or perhaps I should say we should allow God to change us. In our second reading, St. Paul expresses confidence that God who has begun a good work in us will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God begins this work on the day of our baptism; after that, conversion is a constant, ongoing process which leads us ever closer to God. But, unfortunately, it is not always a smooth process. At times we make mistakes. We give into temptation. We fall. But thanks be to God’s infinite love and mercy, He is always there ready to forgive us and welcome us back when we confess our sins, express our sorrow and contrition and promise to try to do better going forward in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
Conversion involves not only a personal transformation but also, because of the social nature of sin and its effects in the world, a transformation of all society as well. And boy does our society need transforming. Even here in Brooklyn, the most densely populated diocese in the United States, in our secular culture we can often feel like a lonely voice crying out in the desert. As we continue on our personal journeys of conversion, let’s help fill those valleys of greed and make those mountains and hills of oppression low. Let’s make those winding roads of injustice and cruelty straight and make those rough ways of prejudice and intolerance smooth, by not being afraid to live our faith each day, and to give witness to our beliefs and values in the public square. Let’s prepare the way of the Lord right here in Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach!
-- Fr. Bob