by Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
While traveling through Manhattan, I occasionally encounter someone oddly dressed and proclaiming the nearness of the Lord. My natural tendency, and that of most other pedestrians, is to avoid getting too close.
That leaves me wondering why anyone would be seeking John the Baptist. Matthew describes him as wearing camel-hair clothes, eating locusts and proclaiming a message of urgent repentance. His address to the Pharisees and Sadducees, whom he calls a “brood of vipers,” is angry, and the clearing of the threshing floor he promises is far different from the world Isaiah promises in the first reading.
Yet, Matthew tells us that “at that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan were going out to him.”
Why? What was he offering that made so many want to be baptized by him? They were waiting for the one who would bring to fulfillment the promises of Isaiah.
John admitted the he was not the one but that one mightier than he was coming. The people heard that promise and wanted to be part of it; they wanted to be able to stand in the presence of the Mightier One. John heralded the start of a new era, but to be part of it, one had to first put aside righteousness.
He offered them forgiveness. They went to John not just to confess their sins, but to be washed clean of them so that they might be made ready to greet the Lord when he came.
I am a sinner. I write that with no shame and expect no shocked reaction. Sin is part of the human condition. My confidence in confessing my sinfulness is borne of the truth that anyone can write the same words.
Gratefully, I have a spiritual director and confessor whom I trust completely. He constantly invites me to open my heart to God’s forgiveness with the hope that the celebration of that forgiveness will result in improved behavior. Every time I meet with him, I wonder why I don’t meet with him more often.
How liberating it is to know that the sacrament of reconciliation is not about naming our sins, but about hearing that those sins are forgiven. Naming them helps us put aside righteousness.
One of the most effective celebrations initiated in our diocese over the past several years is Reconciliation Monday in Lent and Advent. These sacred seasons are times of preparation, opportunities to put aside righteousness, seek forgiveness and ready ourselves spiritually for the coming feast.
With all the preparations we will make to be able to celebrate Christmas, John the Baptist reminds us that acknowledging our sinfulness and experiencing God’s forgiveness should be at the top of our list.
Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 11: 1-10
Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17
Romans 15: 4-9
Matthew 3: 1-12
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka and Transfiguration Parish, Maspeth.