By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
IN THE FIRST reading from the prophet Baruch, the word “glory” is used six times. He proclaims a joyful message, calling all of Jerusalem to rejoice because they have been remembered by God, Who comes in splendor to bring them into a share of His glory. Their sufferings and pains are at an end and God’s majesty and justice is to be revealed through them.
In St. Luke’s Gospel, however, John the Baptist advises us not to begin the celebration too quickly. The time is near but, he cautions, the way must be made ready. “Prepare ye,” he says, “the way of the Lord.”
How chilling it was the first time I saw the musical “Godspell” and heard the opening song, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” The Baptist sings it slowly and strongly and then it evolves into a great celebration – from an invitation to repentance it becomes an invitation to rejoice. John is affirming the joyful news of God’s glory, but tempering it with the human reality that we have work to do if we are going to share fully in that glory. This call to action answers, I believe, the proverbial question on the meaning of life.
Getting Ready for Heaven
Just as the womb is a time of being readied for this world, so too this world is a time of being readied to share in God’s glory. The meaning of this life is found in preparing the way of the Lord, in readying ourselves for that vision of splendor Baruch describes. The real question is not: “What is this life all about?” We know it is all about getting ready for heaven.
The challenge of the Baptist is to look within and ask ourselves: “How? How do I get ready? What is God asking me to do to be able to meet Him more confidently when He comes?” In this sense, we have a vocation story this weekend.
Over the summer, I had the opportunity to read the book, “The Ear of the Heart,” the autobiography of Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B., which she co-authored with a lifelong friend, Richard DeNeut. Mother Dolores shocked Hollywood when she chose to enter into contemplative life after becoming a well known and sought after young actress. She even kissed Elvis Presley!
Early in the autobiography, her co-author asks when she decided that she did not want that lifestyle any more. Her answer is surprising: “Never.”
She explains that she was very happy with the life she had in Hollywood. She enjoyed acting and met wonderful people. It was exciting and profitable. She had the life she dreamed of and was very happy living it. But she sensed there was more to life than that. She used to visit a monastery for time away from the rapid pace of her life.
Although she had never considered it a life choice for herself, she kept getting a nagging feeling that she was drawn to return to the monastery time and again until finally she recognized, acknowledged and accepted the call. She did not want to leave the life she had but the “ear of her heart” kept hearing a message that was different from what she originally presumed would be her road to happiness and fulfillment. Although she found much joy in what she was doing, she knew she would only find real contentment in listening to that voice speaking within. The voice was her call to prepare the way of the Lord, her vocation.
Although we usually use the term “vocation” to refer to a call to the ordained, religious or consecrated life, by virtue of our Baptism we are all called to “do something beautiful for God,” as Blessed Mother Teresa put it.
We are all called to something. In that sense, there is no shortage of vocations – we all have one. The shortage is in the willingness of God’s people to acknowledge that perhaps His will for them might not be what they presume will bring them happiness. To discern the message spoken to the ear of the heart, we must reflectively ask not, “What do I want to do for Christ and His Church?” but rather, “What is Christ calling me to do for His Church?”
Most of us are familiar with the quote from Henry David Thoreau: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
Many of us, however, are unaware that these words are only part of what he said. The complete quotation is: “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
Not listening to the song sung to the ear of the heart breeds the desperation of an unfilled vocation, that good work begun by God, as St. Paul says to the Philippians in today’s second reading, which He promises to bring to fulfillment.
Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent
Psalm 126: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Philippians 1: 4-6, 8-11
Luke 3: 1-6
Msgr. Joseph P. Calise is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Williamsburg.