Back in my younger days about 300 years ago, Saturday mornings were synonymous with cartoons on TV. Looney Tunes, Popeye, Fat Albert (which today would be politically incorrect to say), and a bunch of others were enjoyed by myself, my siblings, and millions of other youngsters, and those young at heart, throughout this country.
Two people who would have made great Saturday morning cartoon characters that never made it were, first, Big Papi, because he wasn’t yet born, and second, John the Baptist. John probably never made Saturday morning TV for kids because God didn’t want anyone laughing at him. Between his odd dress of camel’s hair, and his odd diet of locusts and wild honey, there would have been too much to chuckle at. But God nixed that idea from the minds of all cartoon creators, then and now. Maybe John the Baptist will still become one of the Avengers in today’s world of make-believe characters with super-human strength.
But as we know, John the Baptist is not make-believe. To make certain that we know this, it’s why the Gospel writer Luke grounds the ministry of John in history, alongside names like Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanius, Annas and Caiaphas. Those names represent a bunch of history at a certain time in a certain location. Luke’s purpose is not to raise them up in any way as models for his Gospel, for most of them will play a role in the deaths of both John and Jesus. The writer’s purpose is, though, to raise the Prophet who would have made a great Saturday morning cartoon character, John the Baptist.
Why is John so necessary to our faith, as we prepare for the coming of Jesus’ birth? Why not leave him out of the Gospel pages altogether, skip over his conception in the womb of St. Elizabeth, move past his birth and time in the desert, his preparation for Jesus, his baptism of Jesus, and John’s subsequent death? Why not leave his name out of history? We would still be saved in the Person of Christ, in his life, death, and resurrection, without John. That’s all we really need. God could do it all on his own. But obviously He chose not to. And John is a central figure since God’s plan unfolded with the inclusion of human beings playing certain roles in leading us back to God.
If God saw John as necessary as the Precursor to Jesus his Son, then John is necessary for us too. So, why is the Baptist necessary in history? Well, this is the first responsibility of John; to lead us back to God again, and again, and again with the poignant reminder of “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” This Prophet is the serious voice chosen by God to preach the Good News, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” A voice not to be laughed at.
As we know so well in our Christian faith, these words of John go well beyond our Sunday attendance. This is where we begin our preparation for doing God’s work at the start of each week. An upcoming week that will include unexpected moments and surprises for many of us, whether good or not so good. A week that will present a normal routine in many respects, but not all the way through the entire week for any of us.
The message of John to prepare the way of the Lord without question begins with our proactive move toward repentance. This is the heart and soul of his message. But, preparing the way of the Lord for this upcoming week as we prepare for Christmas too, and the weeks to follow, is also preparation by way of works of mercy; preparation for forgiving another; preparation for being dedicated to a daily prayer life; it’s preparation for visiting the sick and homebound, which is the job of all the baptized.
So, John’s serious message a couple weeks before the birth of our Savior, is preparation of the whole person, body, mind and soul, for Jesus’ birth. But John begins always with repentance, going through Ernie’s Car Wash for the Soul, coming our sparkling clean, but expands to a continued commitment to prayer and good works.
John the Baptist’s second responsibility is to be the best example of the message he brings from heaven. We call this practicing what is preached. This is where John is perfect, leaving us an example of holiness and commitment to Christ that is second only to Blessed Mary.
Because of the apparent hardness of John’s message of repentance, or his language to the Pharisees and Sadducees, calling them a “brood of vipers,” a group of snakes, a nickname for a criminal, what we can miss in John’s “Saturday morning” character is that he is a Prophet of the greatest devotion and love. If John was not a man of the greatest love, he would never prepare the way of the Lord, for God is love. And when we prepare the Lord’s way for others, we too practice what we are called to preach.
On this 2nd Sunday of Advent we look to John the Baptist, but also hear and listen to John and his message from above. We see how true he was to the words he preached, and how faithful he was to God’s mission. Heeding the message of the Baptist – mercy and good works – is solid preparation for our Savior’s birth.
He would have made a great Saturday morning cartoon character, or one of the Avengers. But he makes a far greater Prophet for Christ, with a Divine message we won’t find in any cartoons. Following the words of the Baptist this Advent will make certain our upcoming trip to Bethlehem will be filled with joy and glad tidings.
Our Mass schedule for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a vigil Mass on Friday, December 7 at 4:00 p.m. and Saturday morning, December 8 at 8:00 a.m.
As we begin a new Church Year and the Season of Advent, the spiritual message comes to us, jumping off the pages of Scripture. The spiritual message that we are to stand erect, stand tall, stand facing the elements, and raise our heads. Be as proud and confident as an eagle soaring in flight over the waters, ready to catch a nice, big juicy fish for lunch. An eagle flies with full confidence knowing that when it leaves its nest, it will catch its dinner.
The message of Christ, as we begin this holy season, is to look ahead and be confident. We prepare again for this incredibly beautiful truth of how God is going to change the entire cosmos, and the whole of human salvation, in this tiny newborn child about to be born of the Virgin a few weeks hence.
So, we consider in confidence just how we prepare with open hearts and open minds for this annual anticipation for the coming of the Lord as an infant.
The first consideration is Advent, we see, taking on the colors of Lent. Therefore, we stand tall, we stand erect, and we raise our heads and focus on the door in the back of this Church, the one that opens into what we lovingly, affectionately call “The Confessional.” Advent, similar to Lent, is a season of doing what needs to be done in union with God’s mercy and forgiveness. Granted, that fits the spiritual bill for every season, but we zero in more at this time.
I understand we all have, I pray, our personal conversations with the all-merciful God at different times throughout the year, the week, and throughout the day. To not have the conversation that pleads for God’s forgiveness, that one-on-one search for Divine Mercy after cursing another driver and their driving skills, is to be missing a most important part of our prayer life.
To stand tall, erect, and raise our heads as Jesus tells his Disciples, are actions of spiritual confidence that carries a desire for God’s mercy to the end of the line, which goes through the Confessional door. To enter that door, or the same door in any Catholic Church, and confess our sins to the priest who literally stands in for Christ – in persona Christi – is to raise our heads and stand erect, looking at the merciful face of Christ square in the eyes. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, and all the power and graces experienced through it, is the elite action of standing tall for God’s mercy to fill our souls.
The one-on-one is nice. I would never say “Don’t do that, because it’s not good enough.” I do it myself every day. But it’s not the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I compare the one-on-one desire for God’s mercy to driving out to Boston to a Celtics or Bruins game at the Garden, and despite having tickets for the game, you stop in Framingham and watch the game on TV in a bar. You see the game, but you didn’t see it in person. Receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation in person leaves no doubt, and removes all doubt, as to our sins being forgiven or not. Who wants that spiritual doubt in their head? We really receive Christ in the Eucharist; we really do get Confirmed as Disciples of Christ; we really do receive forgiveness, giving ourselves a new beginning with the Lord and one another, standing tall. This is at the heart of Advent. Confession is at the heart of our preparing for the manger child.
What’s also at the heart of Advent are the words from Jeremiah in today’s 1st reading; “The Lord our justice.” How do we stand erect and raise our heads with those prophetic words this Advent? How do they connect to the words of Jesus in the Gospel? I’m glad you asked.
Justice is a word that has many civil overtones. “I want justice” can mean “I want to even the score,” or “I want fairness,” which is a good thing, or “I want some element of satisfaction.” At times such thinking is understandable; other times it moves forward with motives that contradict the harder teachings of Christ, especially where vengeance is involved. “Vengeance is mine,” says the Lord.
With the civil overtones connected to the word justice, there can be many occasions where it’s difficult to raise our heads and stand tall the way Christ teaches in this Advent Gospel. Standing tall for Christ can be present in our search for civil justice, but I sense that it doesn’t happen many more times than it does, where our faith in Christ is completely left out.
To stand tall and erect, and to raise our heads with the words of the great Jeremiah, “The Lord our justice,” incorporates into our lives the joyful understanding that he as our justice is a justice overflowing with mercy and compassion. Christ is born in a manger because of God’s love for us; but he also feels bad for us. He feels bad that we condemned ourselves to the lower regions of Hades because of the dumbness of Adam & Eve falling for the serpent’s trick. So, being our justice, he doesn’t look to get even with us for obvious disobedience. His justice brings us home to eternal peace, overturning the serpent’s trick. His justice commands us to love one another. And that’s at the heart of the words, “The Lord our justice.” The Lord our love. The Lord our mercy. The Lord our Redeemer.
To invite the words of Jeremiah into the actions and words of our own lives, and to live them out, is to stand tall, raise our heads, and look Christ in the eyes. This is being vigilant, being aware of where, when and with whom His form of justice can happen, so that we may escape the tribulation of his Divine justice. “The Lord our justice” is where Catholics stand tall.
So, this Advent, I pray we stand tall and erect, and raise our heads with the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and with “The Lord our justice.” There are no halfway moves with Christ the Lord. He doesn’t want us stopping in a bar in Framingham. He calls us all the way into Boston and use the ticket he bought for us on the Cross.