Paul W. Galetto, O.S.A.
Psalm 126:1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 6
Phil 1:4-6, 8-11
Preparing the Way of the Lord
Any of us who has driven through an interstate highway construction site is familiar with the lingo and signs that accompany such an endeavor: shifting lanes, detour ahead, reduced speed, no shoulder, bottlenecks, traffic jams and delays. Road construction is an inexorable process and at times as we are sitting in traffic (impatiently) waiting we can see what the end result is going to achieve. Our experience tells us that it is worth the wait; that when all the barriers are removed our journey will be so much better; so much smoother. Not too long after the highway is made clear the distractions and inconveniences we experienced will recede into our memory and we will barely recall the times we punched the steering wheel or screamed aloud to no one in particular: “Come on! Let’s move!” (Okay, so maybe everybody doesn’t do that; just impatient people like me.)
In today’s Gospel when Luke quotes the prophet Isaiah in reference to John the Baptist, it sounds a lot like a construction plan: “Prepare the way,” “make straight his paths,” “every valley shall be filled,” “winding roads shall be made straight,” and “the rough ways made smooth.”
On this Second Sunday of Advent the Church is calling each of us to undertake our own personal interstate highway project that will connect our mind with our heart and with our soul which in turn reconnects us with our God in ways that are level and smooth. Also, this week Pope Francis will inaugurate the Year of Mercy and mercy is the greatest construction tool we have to fill in the valleys and make straight the paths.
Shifting lanes and detours are needed if we hope to change. Albert Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Too often we find ourselves in a rut; we keep making the same mistakes and yet somehow we hope that our lives will change and be different with a minimum amount of effort. Being comfortable is the enemy of the Christian who seeks a better and renewed life. Being comfortable makes us lazy and complacent. Being comfortable makes us self-centered: if it is not bothering me then how bad a problem can it be? We must be willing to sacrifice who we are for who we can become. Sometimes the lane shift needs to be dramatic and at other times we just need a simple and better insight into ourselves. Mercy is a great place to start. I saw a cartoon the other day that captured
this best. A character was sitting in a room all by himself and above the door of the room was written “Hell.” Another character was yelling at the man in the room saying, “You’re not getting out of there until you forgive yourself.” Sometimes our own hell starts and ends with us. We need to self-administer mercy so we can shift from our old lanes that are strewn with potholes and the detritus of failed attempts at patching roads that need major construction.
Slowing down is a great place to start: reduced speed ahead; speeding fines double in the construction zone. We get so caught up in our workday schedule we feel trapped. “I can’t slow up or the guy in the next car me will ram me from behind.” It is rarely our own fault (or at least we tell ourselves that). We become so engaged in the rat race of consumerism and keeping up with the Joneses that we lose our focus. SLOW DOWN BEFORE YOU GET IN AN ACCIDENT! Reassess, think about your values, and take the time to re-orient yourself. Don’t let the person who is tailgating dictate your life. Accepting mercy as a lifestyle is a slow, continual process that requires us to pause and pay attention to the hurt and pain in our world.
Why should we care if there is no shoulder? I hardly ever use the shoulder anyway. In driving through construction sites, I always seem to encounter this warning. Even though I may not use it often, I have come to see the value of the shoulder. When the shoulder is gone, so is the margin of error. If things go wrong there is no place to hide or escape. The shoulder, while maybe not used that often, is critical to the smooth and worry-free flow of traffic. How many of us have been on narrow back roads with a truck coming in the opposite direction and felt like, “This isn’t going to work!” Or we have been on a tour bus in a foreign country climbing a mountain road and we marvel at the driver and the ability he/she has to shepherd the vehicle and us to safety. I imagine all of us have found a shoulder to cry on when we needed to be healed or comforted at difficult times. That shoulder provided us mercy; that person offered us the healing balm of love, consolation or forgiveness. As we have received, so we need to give, on our new level and smooth highway we must create a shoulder to provide solace to those in need.
At the top of my list of things I hate is the traffic jam or the bottleneck. I am not a patient person and many times I have found myself praying the following prayer: God, give me patience and GIVE IT TO ME NOW! My life experience tells me that anything truly great is worth waiting for. There is nothing like home-baked goods, there is no short-term pregnancy that gives birth to a beautiful and healthy child, there is no construction project that doesn’t take time. Advent is the season of patience; we hear it in the music and prayers of the season. It is inevitable when constructing new roads and highways that there be delays, traffic jams and bottlenecks – that doesn’t mean you have to like them but it does mean that any change worthwhile will take time. We have to realize that there are many things beyond our control and worrying about them is an exercise in futility. We need to let go of our impatience and let the grace of God’s mercy work in our lives. It is true that time heals all wounds. Mercy is more of a process than it is an action. We are fooling ourselves if we think there is a quick fix to spiritual awakening. We have to be in it for the long term. Many times people come to confession and express their frustration that they are committing the same sins as before. If we want to end this frustration we need new paths, new logic, new strategies, and new roads to arrive at a better and more peaceful place.
A saying of St. Augustine that gives me great hope is the following: God is closer to us than we are to ourselves. The road we are rebuilding allows us to let God into our lives. Over the course of years we have set up so many roadblocks and created potholes and obstructions that we make it difficult to find the God who so longs to be close to us. The reconstructed road will be smooth and filled with grace.
This Second Sunday of Advent is as good a time as any to undertake our major construction project. As we wait we know that it will be worth it. If we have the courage to start we will see the inexorable filling in of the valleys and the leveling of the mountains. We know what lies ahead and we know what tools and temperament we will need. Patience and Mercy will lead us to that joy of new birth that will be our own personal Christmas, our own personal incarnation of the love of God in our lives.