Sunday, December 4, 2011

Preparation = Reconciliation

St. John the Baptist preaching repentance
Readings for Sunday, December 4/ Second Sunday of Advent: 
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85:9-14
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

As we read the opening verses of the Gospel of Mark today, we immediately hear not about the Lord but about John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Lord’s coming. In moving from the prophecy of Isaiah to the introduction of John as appearing in the desert proclaiming a message of repentance, St. Mark shows us that John is not just a lead-in to the story but is really a key figure. Moreover, by establishing repentance as the proper mode of preparation for the Lord’s coming, he also reveals to us how we are to spend this time of preparation in Advent.

As we listen to the scriptures, we hear about this reality of repentance being the proper means of preparation in the Second Letter of St. Peter also. The Lord’s delay in coming, he points out, is not some accidental thing or something the Lord is doing for His own good, but rather He delays His coming to enable us to have time to repent and thus be truly prepared for the day that the Lord truly does come. We are then challenged by the first Pope himself to conduct ourselves in holiness and to strive to be found without spot or blemish. We are called not simply to be good or sufficient, but perfect and spotless. This is not something that we can do, however. Rather, we must repent of our sinfulness and the Lord will sanctify us Himself. He will make us perfect.

As we hear today the story of John’s calling people to repentance before the Lord’s coming so many years ago, we recognize that he is also calling us to repentance today. But unlike in John’s day, when washing with water left people still in their sins, we are called this Advent season to repent and turn to Jesus Christ in the person of the priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, where we are washed clean by the Blood of Christ and our sins truly forgiven.

Open for Business!
Mother Church tells us that we must go at least once every year to the Sacrament of Reconciliation as a way of ensuring that we are taking proper care of our souls. If you haven’t been to confession in the past year, please go. And I’ll take it a step further and say that if you haven’t been to confession in the past month, you should go also. Pope John Paul II and many saints of the Church went weekly, if not more often. Could we not benefit from such frequent help from the graces of the sacrament too?

As I encourage you to go to confession so frequently or at all, some of you may already be finding reasons or excuses of why you shouldn’t.

I don’t do anything that bad, so I don’t really need to go.
Or the opposite: I’ve done something so bad that Jesus surely won’t forgive me.
I can’t tell Father these things and then face him later.
I can’t find the time to get to the sacrament.
I just say that same things over and over.
I don’t really see the need to go since I can ask Jesus for forgiveness myself.

To these and any other fear or excuse, I simply say that God’s mercy is beyond measure. Christ’s own blood was poured out for forgiveness of our sins, as the consecration of the wine reminds us. To be afraid or not in need of coming to that great source of love and mercy in confession is what the devil desires of us. He wants us not to prepare the way for the Lord’s coming, but rather simply to be content with how things are or to be held back with fear from how things could be. As we continue to await the Lord’s coming and we hear that call of the Baptist to repentance, I say to you what Our Lord said to His disciples so many times: Be not afraid. Prepare the way of the Lord.