by Father Michael Panicali
MY DAD, the late Eugene Panicali, had a penchant for blasting the sitting mayor or governor every time he’d go over a pothole or a rut in the road – as if the politician were personally responsible for the crater that threw his wheels out of alignment.
This second Sunday of Advent, when we meet John the Baptist, reminds us of every time that we are thrown out of alignment, be it through sin, human weakness and by not living up to the identity of baptized Christian, which requires a lot of us.
Stumbles and Fumbles
As I have seen in my own life’s trajectory of stumbles and fumbles, God always seems to have a way of working through these to get me to where He needs and desires me to be. I once heard it said that God is like a great composer who takes all the wrong notes that we can play in our lives and weaves them into a beautiful symphony – to the point where it seems those discordant notes were meant to be in the music all along.
Most importantly, this only comes through our willingness (reflecting how much God respects us and our freedom). It only comes with our allowing God’s grace to work on us and through our situations. We have to make the decision to accept these graces, or risk spinning to further waywardness and confusion. We need only make the choice to put into practice what the Gospel teaches us, to die to pride and our own way, and to pay attention to what people whom we know to have strong faith, wisdom and experience tell us. Many times God speaks through them to us.
John the Baptist is one such person. He can be seen as many things – the Rambo of his day, the hardcore consumer of locusts and honey, the wailing prophet on his own street corner who screams the same things and upsets people in the same ways that Elijah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel did before him. We know how his earthly life tragically concludes, in much the same way as the other prophets before him.
Before he is beheaded, he screams and shouts – in echoing the prophet Isaiah – about making a highway, a smooth path, for God. While my dad definitely appreciated smooth roads, life rarely gives them to us – or rather, because of our errors and sins, we rarely create them for ourselves.
But this is why John the Baptist is so pivotal a figure in Advent. He continually points to Jesus. This is all he does. He insists he is not worthy to loosen Jesus’ sandals. He is absorbed by the coming of Christ. Few people in Scriptures are characterized by such humility and ardent convictions. He simply subsists on nothing but the hope of Christ.
Potholes and Ruts
He reminds us to make the path clear for Christ and to smooth over the potholes and ruts – some of our own doing, some occurring through no fault of our own. While these potholes and ruts seem to be ever-present in the human condition, they don’t have to characterize our lives.
This Sunday’s message is clear: There is no damage that God cannot overcome and amazingly, God cannot incorporate into our individual journey toward Him.
Today, in what will soon be 2018, the great Baptizer shouts at us to not shut God out of our lives! Prepare, make ready, pray, do penance. In this way we allow God to smooth over the ruts and grooves in ways that are going to utterly amaze and captivate us. And lead us to Him, where all roads lead.
Readings for the Second Sunday Of Advent
Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85: 9-12, 13-14
2 Peter 3: 8-14
Mark 1: 1-8
Father Panicali, parochial vicar at St. Mark and St. Margaret Mary parish, Sheepshead Bay, was ordained to the priesthood for the Brooklyn Diocese on June 3, 2017.