Prepare the Way of the Lord. Make Straight His Path
Leonardo da Vinci painted the fresco (wall painting), "The Last Supper," in Santa Maria delle Grazie church in Milan in three years (1495-1498). A very interesting story is associated with this painting. At the time that Leonardo da Vinci painted "The Last Supper," he had an enemy who was a fellow painter. Da Vinci had had a bitter argument with this man and despised him. When Da Vinci painted the face of Judas Iscariot at the table with Jesus, he used the face of his enemy so that it would be present for ages as the man who betrayed Jesus. While painting this picture, he took delight in knowing that others would actually notice the face of his enemy on Judas. As he worked on the faces of the other disciples, he often tried to paint the face of Jesus but couldn't make any progress. Da Vinci felt frustrated and confused. In time, he realized what was wrong. His hatred for the other painter was holding him back from finishing the face of Jesus. Only after making peace with his fellow-painter and repainting the face of Judas was he able to paint the face of Jesus and complete his masterpiece.
In today’s Gospel, St. John the Baptist resounds a similar tone quoting the lines from the Prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight His paths!” Preparation is such an underrated term and yet a very powerful tool as we celebrate Advent, “adventus” – the coming of our savior. These words of St. John Baptist still resound today and are appealing to our hearts to be prepared so that we may open our hearts to Christ. Now, in keeping with the tone of preparation, what can we do today to “make straight His paths?
First way is REPENTANCE. John the Baptist’s exhortation in the Gospel was so compelling that even the Scribes and Pharisees were driven to listen to him regardless of whatever intentions they may have in doing so. The advent season just like lent, is a season of repentance (the very reason why we use the color purple on both seasons) followed by anticipation, hope and joy. As we await for the coming of the Savior, we are called to repent and for St. John, it is to go to the desert or the wilderness. The desert is a place of being alone with God. We go into the desert when we take time off our normal job and household occupation to be with God in church, in prayer, and in reading the word of God. The desert is the place where we encounter God. We ourselves must take the first step to go into the desert, to reach out to God, to look for God.
In this sense, how do we prepare ourselves as we go to the “desert” to be alone with God? Every Sunday we walk into this Church in order to adore Him. At times we come late for some reasons, which we may not be in control of, but our coming to Mass speaks about the way we treat the sacrament. The Mass is a sacred “desert moment.” It is something that connects us with God; it is a significant channel to express repentance, which in humility, we offer to Him our sinfulness. If so, are we to miss every single moment of the Mass from beginning (Introductory Rite) to end (Concluding Rite)?
Second way is CONVERSION. Once we open our hearts to God in the desert, God Himself comes and fills us up. Let us always remember that when we go to confession, God takes the first initiative as He has first drawn us to Himself in the desert. Through the Sacrament of Reconciliation he comes to us, to fill us, to renew us, to transform us, to remold us into God's image that we are created to be. Through this sacrament we are being born again. When we do this step, we are eventually drawn to spend the whole day alone with God in church, in prayer, in Bible reading. Sin divides us away from God and at times confuses us of our true identity as Christians. The sacrament draws us back to Him in peace and makes us open to appreciate and love Him all the more in joy! But like St. John, we must go on to live our lives and carry out our duties in the family and in the society.
The third way is RENEWAL. Having experienced the goodness of the Lord in our own lives, our next desire is to share this experience to others. It's like being invincible as without any doubt we proclaim how great God is! People look at us and see the joy and peace and serenity that radiates from us and they would like to be like us. They would like to be our friends. And then we can, in turn, help them by showing them the pathway to the desert, the place where they, in their turn, will encounter God personally. The experience of God is like the experience of love. You can tell people about it. But they will not understand what you are talking about until they themselves experience it.
Cardinal John O’Connor of New York was consecrated a bishop in 1983 in Rome. On his way down the aisle after the consecration, he blessed the people gathered in the church. Suddenly he saw a famous face, and went over to greet Mother Teresa of Calcutta. He gave her a blessing, but was not prepared for what came next. She grasped one of his hands in both of hers, and said to him: “Give Jesus a free hand! Give him permission!” Cardinal O’Connor never forgot those words, and he said that he tried to make them a watchword for the rest of his life. Giving God a free hand in our lives is what is expected of us, especially during the advent season.
We cannot make the most of this Advent Season without having to prepare for it seriously. Jesus’ coming has been prepared by John the Baptist by calling people to repent, to be converted and to renew/dedicate/offer their lives to Christ. We too are called to do the same way to prepare and dispose ourselves to be pure, spotless (free from sin) whole and entire. Preparation is a tedious process. But it gives us a true spirit that enables us to become worthy participants of the whole plan of salvation. It makes us more worthy in welcoming the coming of Christ in our hearts!
This year, as the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception falls on a Sunday, by order of precedence, the celebration is not a holy day of obligation. But though the case, we do not undermine the place of the Blessed Mother in the overall plan of salvation:
On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX declared that no moment in Mary’s life was, contrary to us who have a human nature, tainted by original sin because of the fall of Adam and Eve, she under the dominion of sin. This Pope infallibly defined the Immaculate Conception, this dogma of our faith in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus. He said: “…the Most Blessed Virgin Mary in the first moment of her conception [in the womb of St. Anne] was, by the unique grace and privilege of God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Savior of the human race, preserved intact from all stain of original sin,” and “is revealed by God and must, therefore, firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.” This simply shows that God, in a special way, prepared Mary to be the Mother of Jesus, the Savior of humankind and the Redeemer of all.
Today, we sing the hymn of advent as we say, “O come, O come, Emmanuel” touch our lives, mold our hearts, open our eyes that we may feel your presence and that we may “see” you very much alive in our very lives.