Sunday Scriptures

Now Is the Time to Change Our Ways, to Turn Our Lives Around

by Sister Karen M. Cavanagh, C.S.J.

THE RITE of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process is such a wonder-filled experience. Accompanying members of a parish community on their pathway to baptism can be a blessed teachable moment for the candidates (the elect) and for teachers and parishioners who journey with them.

One December evening during class, a woman who was preparing for the sacrament of baptism was reflecting on this Sunday’s readings. With tears she acknowledged her reality – her truth and her sadness. For more than eight years, she and her brother had not spoken. Her resentment and anger toward him only grew. The reason for the rift was insignificant compared to the pain in her spirit. Her brother had asked to reconcile several times, but this always met a wall of resistance. It had become a “way of life” for Judy as years of alienation from Peter continued.

Through her tears she spoke: “If I allow this lack of forgiveness to keep my heart so hardened, if I do not let Jesus heal my heart and my relationship, my baptism at Easter will only be an empty gesture!” Judy had become the teacher that night.

On this second Sunday of Advent, we hear yet another teacher, John the Baptist, crying out: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” We find this prophesy of John proclaimed by Isaiah: “A voice of one crying in the desert, Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight God’s paths” (Isaiah 40:3). This mandate was not only for the Scribes and Pharisees, not only for those at the river’s edge with John, but also for you and for me. We profess a living Gospel.

The Advent Scriptures are a call to look into our lives, to carefully notice the “dis-eases” and inconsistencies that exist in our behaviors, our words, our prayers and our hearts. Where might we have grown too comfortable or perhaps too tolerant with our own attitudes, behaviors or omissions that they can fail to manifest the responsibilities of our own baptism? They call us to make that connection between God’s vision for all of our human relationships and God’s vision for all of creation.

John’s very urgent and fiery warnings are preceded by Isaiah’s poetic and colorful imagery of God’s dream for the world. St. Paul offers encouragement and practical instructions to the earliest Christians and to us. They both tell how our lives might bring about God’s dream. In the Psalm, we sing of the flourishing of justice and peace.

John doesn’t mince his words. We hear them for Pharisees and Sadducees, for leaders and rulers, for the “brood of vipers.” He also reminds us, “do not presume yourselves exempt.” It’s as though he is saying, “I’m talking to you … and you … and you.” The message is clear. We are told to turn our lives and hearts around, to repent and to change our attitudes and ways – now.

Each time I attend Mass, I respond to intercessions which pray that our world and government leaders will work toward a just distribution of the world’s goods and resources. We ask that our Church always respond with compassion and unity in her ministries. We beg for an end to violence, war and fear. We pray that our communities will always seek to secure the dignity of life at every stage, and the safety of children and those exploited for profit. As the list of petitions goes on, I find myself hoping that some people I know will get their acts together, that others will be more generous, inclusive or understanding, that they’ll hear what the readings are saying.

As I reflect on these Scriptures, God and John remind me loud and clear that I’m far from exempt – and so far from exemplary. I’m warned about procrastination regarding the right thing and any stance toward self-righteousness or superiority. If I dishonor these baptismal responsibilities, I dishonor God.

Advent holds out hope, anticipation and the promise of God-with-us always. There can be no hope for global peace if those of us related by blood, marriage or friendship can’t settle our differences. There can be little anticipation of racial harmony and cultural unity if we can’t be bothered with our next door neighbor or the folks we meet in our neighborhoods, work places, churches and schools.

We might have our own Judy or Peter story or a painful memory which affects our lives today. On this second Sunday of Advent, there may be resentments, judgments, rivalries, infidelities, hurts, memories, fears or choices that keep our hearts, spirits and lives closed and unable to hear the prophet’s call.

Today we have those reminders too, that our lives, our families, our securities and our relationships can experience significant change in a heartbeat. We only have now.[hr]

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent[hr]

Isaiah 11:1-10

Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17

Romans 15: 4-9

Matthew 3: 1-12

Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J., a trained spiritual director and retreat facilitator, is a pastoral associate/family minister at St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish, Jamaica.

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