My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
One of the most annoying, and I might say dangerous, obstacles in driving on the streets of the City of New York are the potholes. It seems that no one can keep up with repairing them, as they pop up unexpectedly here and there all the time.
As Deacon Jaime Varela is driving me to and from Masses or other events, we find that we are able to call some “craters!” Truly, potholes are dangerous in that one can break an axle, seriously damage a tire or two or even have an accident trying to avoid one. One of my most famous lines to Deacon Jaime is that the farm roads in the rural areas of the Diocese of Camden, where I served before I came to Brooklyn, were better than the roads of New York City. Well, what can one do about potholes? Complain to the city administration? Avoid them? Or, as most of us do, put up with them?
In last Sunday’s Gospel, John the Baptist is speaking out about human potholes, the potholes of our lives. Prepare the way of the Lord, making the winding roads straight and the rough roads smooth. In order to arrive at a true celebration of Christmas, we need to deal with the potholes in our lives, the impediments that keep us from recognizing our Savior who has come to save us, mostly from ourselves and our faults, as well as the dangerous potholes of our lives.
What are some of these potholes of life? Perhaps as we get closer to Christmas, we recognize the inability to forgive is a serious impediment for Christmas which is such a great family feast. Divisions in families for so many reasons occur and are difficult to eradicate. Memories of hurts in the past do not fade very easily. As we draw near Christmas, the difficulties in family relationships seem to be accentuated. Why can’t I invite my brother for Christmas? Why can’t I have a good relationship with my mother and father? They expect too much from me! These and similar questions certainly can be a part of the problem of truly extending forgiveness to those who have hurt us, or asking forgiveness from them if we have hurt them.
This week, we begin the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, explains in detail, as mentioned in my Pastoral Letter published in The Tablet last week, that the most important characteristic that we know about God, our Father, is that He is a God of mercy. When mercy is extended, forgiveness comes easily. Mercy is not something we deserve; rather, it is a gifted grace. And so it is with forgiveness, we must give it freely, otherwise it will not have its real affect. To forgive and to be forgiven are so much a part of our lives as Christians. We pray it each day when we say the Our Father: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” They are certainly the most difficult words that we must not only pronounce in the Our Father, but put into effect. If we need to work on the pothole of forgiveness, there is still time before Christmas.
Another human pothole that sometimes does us in is that of perfectionism. Yes, sometimes we want everything to be perfect, especially at Christmas time. We want to have the right gift for everyone; we want to make everyone happy as much as we can. We shop until we drop. I cannot help but think of my sister, Donna, who is 11 years younger than I, who I think really has a shopping addiction. Good hearted as she is, she makes sure that everyone has a gift, even the cats and dogs of the family. She spends countless hours shopping, now more online than in the stores, but always ready to find a bargain and try to make someone happy.
But you know, the gifts of Christmas seldom make us as happy as we can be because human perfectionism just does not work. We are not perfect. We cannot have everything just right. We cannot have the “best Christmas ever” this year, as it is a bit beyond our capability and we are only fooling ourselves that we are capable of making everything right. Yes, the pothole of perfectionism needs to be filled in. Of course, we need to do our best. We must recognize, however, that all is a grace from God that we must accept and cooperate with, so that we truly can be, like John the Baptist who tells us, “prepare a way for the Messiah.”
Finally, another pothole, and perhaps the most important one, that needs to be filled in before Christmas is our sometimes weakened relationship with God. Sometimes we do not know how to describe our relationship with God. Do you have a relationship with God? Is your relationship strong? It is much more difficult to answer than when we are asked, “Do you love your mother or your father, your brother or your sister?” because they are people we see, hear and communicate with. Our communication with God is much more spiritual, and so it is hard for us to judge if our relationship with God is good or not. Is there something lacking? It is hard to judge ourselves, but, again, the preparation for Christmas must fill in the cracks and the crevices where our own selfishness and sin has entered. When we fail to seek God’s forgiveness, then we know our relationship with God is weak. The more we seek God’s forgiveness externally, especially in the sacrament of reconciliation, the surer we can be that our relationship with God is in good order.
As we come ever closer to the celebration of the Incarnation, we put out into the deep to recognize that God the Father loved us so much that in His great mercy He sent His Son Jesus Christ to be born of a virgin and to give His life for our salvation. The immensity of that mystery is hard to fathom. All flesh shall see the salvation of God. Yes, everyone is called to be saved. You and I, and even our enemies. Christmas is the time when we recognize that the Savior comes to save each and every one of us from ourselves and from all the potholes, the pitfalls, that life can have for us.