ON THIS SECOND SUNDAY IN THE SEASON OF ADVENT we meet up with John the Baptist at the River Jordan who boldly says: “I am the voice of One crying out in the desert.” He didn’t say, “I am one crying out in the desert,” but rather, “I am THE VOICE of one crying out in the desert.” John is the voice, the loudspeaker, the spokesperson; who is the “one crying out?” It’s the Word, Christ Jesus himself. John’s message is God’s message, which John was screaming at the top of his powerful lungs. The message was urgent and clear: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John the Baptist is telling us that to get ready for the Lord who is coming this Advent, we, too, need to prepare a way for him. We, too, need to make straight the paths. In the ancient world, preparing such a path meant a great deal of manual work, making crooked paths straight, rough ways smooth, and even charting paths through the mountains and valleys. For us, that pathway will not be traced on the ground, but in of our hearts. It will not be made in the wilderness, but in our life. The work is not something that will make our hands dirty, but our souls clean. What John the Baptist is calling us to is a conversion of mind and heart. To preach conversion is the mission of John the Baptist, which is why we encounter him every Advent, because in Advent this message must be preached and conversion must be practiced. The reason is because Jesus has come into the world – to save us from our sins, to save us from ourselves, and from what our sins lead to: death. In order for us to appreciate Christ our Savior and what he did for us, we have to realize that we are sinners who need Him to save us from our sins. That’s why John the Baptist’s message is such a gift. His whole vocation, his whole mission, was to deliver that message. Before he was even conceived, the Archangel Gabriel said to his dad, Zechariah, “He will turn the hearts of many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah, he will go before the Lord, to turn … the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (Luke 1:16-17). Nine months later at his birth, Zechariah exclaimed, “You, my child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77). When the Baptist arrived at the Jordan, he fulfilled those prophecies, “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins,” as we read in today’s Gospel (Mark 1:4). His first words at the Jordan were “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2). Those were the identical words that Jesus himself would use to inaugurate his public ministry a little later, after his forty day retreat in the desert, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 4:17). Thus, John was indeed the voiced of Jesus crying out in the desert for “repentance” through the forgiveness of our sins. That voice and that Word continue to echo in our minds and our hearts today. Folks, the Lord is coming for us in Advent, but for him to reach his destination, we have to convert. “To make straight the paths of the Lord” means to clear the path of sin, which is the major obstacle for the Lord to come into our lives. Quoting the prophet Isaiah from today’s first reading (Isaiah 40:4), John the Baptist says, “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth” (Luke 3:5). We have to call those topographical formations by their proper names. We have to make low the mountains of our pride and egocentrism. We have to fill in the valleys that come from a shallow prayer life and a minimalistic way of living our faith. We have to straighten out whatever crooked paths we’ve been walking – to help identify those crooked paths I have included in this week’s bulletin an extensive Examination of Conscience to prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Now is the time to clear away all the sin and debris in our paths; and if we’ve been pushing Christ’s way off the side of the road, if we’ve been saying we don’t really have the time for His ways, now’s the time to get our priorities straight. This Advent — which is a gift of the Lord to us — will succeed or fail on the basis of how well we convert and clear our lives of sin so that the Lord may come to us. Let’s make a good confession as the first step in straightening our paths.

OF NOTE:

  • The Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is available after each Mass this weekend.
  • The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is Monday, December 8, and is a Holy Day of Obligation. Cathedral Masses will be celebrated at 7:30 a.m., 12:05 p.m. and 5:15 p.m.
  • On Sunday, December 14, “Gaudete Sunday” we will resume our regular Mass schedule at our beloved Holy Cross Church following a renovation of the church interior. How appropriate that we begin anew this particular day given that “gaudete” means “rejoice!” Masses will be at the regular times of 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. A reception will take place in the Cum Cristo Center after both Masses. There will still be some final work taking place after we re-open, but everything will be completed in time for Christmas.
  • Cathedral cleaning volunteers needed! In preparation for Christmas, our annual pizza party and church cleaning will take place on Monday, December 15, beginning at 6:00 p.m. Information is included in this week’s bulletin, and sign-up sheets are in the Narthex (Broad Street entrance) of the Cathedral.

-Fr. Mike Lumpe