Father Mark’s Pastoral Direction


The writer Dave Barry writes: “Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his/her own way, by going to the mall of his/her choice.

We might recognize ourselves in the above statement! We are so used to the commercial side of Christmas – the frenzy of ads and gift-buying, the extravagant decorations and parties – that it is easy to forget what we are really celebrating.

That is where John the Baptist comes in. We first meet John in Luke’s Gospel, before he is even born: Elizabeth’s pregnancy is announced at the same time as Mary’s though John will be born first. The next we hear of John, he appears as God’s messenger (as hear in today’s Gospel), preparing the way of the Lord. His job is to set the stage for Jesus to begin his ministry, and his central message is repentance. The Greek word for repentance was metanoia, which literally means a change of heart, or turning one’s life around. So, John is inviting his audience to make a break with the past, turn to God, and go in a different direction. When Jesus begins his own ministry, his first message is the very same: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.

This is a fitting message as we enter the second week of Advent. As we prepare to welcome Jesus, we are invited to metanoia, or change of heart. As we ponder the mysteries of Christmas, we are nudged onwards in a new direction, to change, to prepare, to reorder our priorities. This week, we could make a conscious effort to move away from the noise and lights of “the mall,” to still our minds, and to open our hearts to God’s call.

Christmas is a season for kindling the fire of hospitality in the hall, the genial flame of charity in the heart.” Washington Irving

John the Baptist came to bear witness to Jesus. Who have been the people who have borne witness to us of the good news of the Gospel that God loves us unconditionally – a friend, a parent, a teacher, etc.? To whom have we borne that witness?

John appears in the story as one who had the courage to be himself in the face of opposition. He was also a person who knew his own value, did not make exaggerated claims and was content with this mission. Can we recall times when we have been content to be ourselves, without pretending to be more than we are? What was it like to have that freedom, even in the face of criticism from others?

John was ‘the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,’ that they must not despair because God’s grace may come to them at any moment. Have we had the experience of being in the wilderness, feeling lost? From whom did we hear a voice that gave us hope? Have we been able to give hope to other people when they were in the wilderness?

In Advent, we invite God into our personal wilderness. We may be recently divorced, a single parent struggling, grieving the loss of a loved one, the person wounded from a recently ended relationship; our wilderness may be unemployment, fears about our job, a serious illness or family problems, anxiety about the future or concerns about schoolwork. Our own wilderness, the places we are called to prepare, are the broken spots where God can enter in.