2nd Sunday of Advent. December 6th 2015.
Bar 5:1-9; Phil 1:4-6,8-11; Lk 3:1-6
Advent in the school of the Baptist
“All flesh will see the salvation of God.”
About three months ago, after I had just celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation in a convent, one of the religious sisters asked me to pray for her because she was suffering from a terminal disease. After praying with her, she asked me to visit her in the convent’s infirmary soon. I promised her sincerely that I will do so unfailingly. She passed away a few days ago. I felt such deep pain and regret on hearing of her death because I never visited her as I had promised. I had it in my mind to do so when I made the promise, I felt that I should do so unfailingly but I completely forgot my sincere promise to her all these weeks. I never remembered my solemn promise after I had made it. Talk about a painful “senior moment.” I begged God for mercy for the good that we fail to do and offered prayers for her peaceful repose.
How badly are we in need of constant reminders in this life? Advent season is one of those reminders, a season to remind us that our repentance cannot be limited to only the good intentions in our heads or the feelings of contrition in our hearts but it has to be expressed in concrete little acts. We only condemn ourselves to sorrow and regret when our repentance does not go beyond good intentions or feelings.
John the Baptist, the prophet of Advent, emphasizes this need for our true repentance to be shown in concrete actions. When he saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to receive his baptism of repentance without any intention of showing this repentance in action, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.” (Mt 3:7,8) Good intentions or pious feelings alone are useless without concrete acts that express sincere repentance.
Advent is also a reminder that we are not just waiting for Christ’s glorious return but that He is with us now, constantly moving us to a sincere repentance through several providential reminders. The Baptist emphasizes this point in today’s Gospel as he proclaims a “baptism of repentance” and asserts that it must be shown in concrete actions. The valleys are to be filled, the mountains made low, the winding roads made straight and the rough ways made smooth. When our repentance is expressed in concrete action, we shall recognize the Savior in their midst, “All flesh will see the salvation of God.” Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is already in their midst now though He is yet to be revealed. Indeed, God is with us now but unless our repentance is shown in action, we too cannot know the joy of recognizing Him with us.
St. Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church in today’s Second Reading is exuberant with a joy that cannot be quenched by his sufferings and pain while in his Ephesus prison, “I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you.” He sees God with Him even at this painful moment, “God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.” He wishes that they too recognize that God is acting in their lives, “I am confident that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” He prays that they too will show their repentance by concrete acts, “I pray that you may discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”
The Apostle to the Gentiles can have such a deep abiding joy by seeing God present and active in his life because in His conversion, he was open to show his repentance by doing the things that God moved him to do. Jesus had said to him on his conversion on the way to Damascus, “Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:6) Paul’s repentance was not just in the good intentions or in his feelings but in his acts of obedience to the One whom he encountered on the way to Damascus.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, how deep and how sincere is our repentance? Are we still in our heads with our good intentions about our future repentance? Or are we fixed on the mere feelings of sorrow? Do we ask ourselves how we are going to express this repentance, the concrete little ways that we are going to make amends for the past and avoid repeating the past failures? Are we attentive to the providential reminders that God is using to call us to a sincere repentance? In what concrete ways are we being invited to fill the valleys in our lives by living a more fervent spiritual life? What are the actual hills of pride, uncorrected faults and bad habits that need to be leveled? What are the known crooked ways that can be made straight by living the Gospel with greater simplicity and straightforwardness? What are the rough ways to be made smooth by paying attention to details in even small things?
As we begin the Jubilee year of Mercy in the next few days, let us never experience the Sacrament of Reconciliation without a firm resolution to do or avoid something that needs to be done or avoided to show our true repentance. It may be something simple like calling up someone that we have not spoken to in years out of anger, saying something nice about someone that we have constantly criticized, or just to speak the truth in a certain situation that we have found ourselves being dishonest. Whatever it may be, no matter how small or simple it is, this will be our concrete response to God’s reminders that will open our eyes to recognize Him with us and leave us with an abiding joy.
The Messiah is here with us in the Eucharist that we celebrate today, and as usual, He is disguised under the elements of bread and wine. We will never lack for His providential graced reminders to us because He wants us to realize His presence with us. If we choose not to live in our heads, behind our good intentions that are never acted upon, if we move beyond the feeling of sorrow and show our repentance in little ways, our eyes will be open to see the salvation of God in our lives and we will not live with regrets but we shall have His joy in this life and in the life to come.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!