2nd Sunday of Advent year B 2017:
Today our gospel focusses on that great saint, St. John the Baptist. His proclamation has rung through the Church now for 2000 years: prepare the way of the Lord. This message is simple. But, it is anything but easy. I love the fact that we reflect on this message every year in Advent. It reminds us that our spiritual life needs intervention, we need to prepare the way for the Lord. Notice, this doesn’t mean that our spiritual life is a product of our actions. No, holiness is always a result of the power of God acting in our lives. However, our role in this process is to open our hearts and minds to God. Our role is to remove obstacles in the way of growing closer to Christ. We don’t become saints because of our hard work, it’s always God’s work. Yet, we can prevent God from working in our lives if we don’t remove the obstacles.
So, what are the obstacles that prevent Christ from coming into our lives? There could be millions right? Each one of us have obstacles and difficulties that are unique. But, I thought I would just talk about 3 that I have seen in my own life or that I see when I talk with people. These three are time, interest, and bad habits.
First obstacle is simply time. Over the last year we have been looking at creating a pastoral plan here at St. Jude. We conducted group meetings and we also had an online survey. I would say that the number one complaint that people had as to why they felt they were not able to grow in their spiritual life they stated they did not have the time to devote to prayer, did not have the time to attend spiritual events, did not have the time to volunteer, etc. I certainly know this is a concrete issue that faces pretty much every one of us. How many times do we ask someone: how are you? The answer comes back: Good, busy, but good. I can certainly say that in my own life, I seem to get busier all the time. I thought I was busy in seminary. Then I get ordained and I get busier. Then Bishop asked me to go to canon law school, busier. Then I became a pastor, busier. Now Bishop asked me to run the tribunal while Fr. Mark is in Rome, busier. I’m sure everyone here probably feels their life has done the same thing. We always add more stuff, but we rarely take stuff away. So, time is an issue, and I get that. But, I would also say that time is probably the most precious resource that we have. And where does it come from? It comes from God of course. Everything comes from him. So, many years ago I started thinking about time like money. I knew that I needed to give back some of my money to God; so why not give back some of my time? What I found is that when I tithed my time, I actually ended up having more time for my work, not less. When I gave back to God generously from my time, the rest of my life seemed so much better in order. But, just like tithing our income, it can be scary to leap into tithing our time. We might think: I’ll never get it all done. Have faith. So, here is my concrete suggestion. Just do a time study. Keep a journal or calendar where you simply jot down how you spend your time. First, you might find that there is time that could be used more productively. Second, build time tithing into your calendar. Start small: 10 minutes a day. If your current time tithing is 1 hour on Sunday. Adding 10 minutes a day will be a huge improvement. Prepare the way of the Lord by giving him an entrance point in your life. It will make a big difference.
Second obstacle is interest. It’s closely associated with time. When it comes to how we spend our time, we usually spend it on things that excite us. Ok, well much of our lives are spent working. But, what about our free time? We usually spend it on things we like. I can tell you that when Star Wars comes out next week many of us will magically find time in our busy schedules to fit in a 4 hour movie experience. I will certainly be among them! So, one obstacle for us to grow in our spiritual life is that we simply do not cultivate a great interest in spiritual things. When was the last time you were amazed by God? When was the last time you got passionate about the Eucharist? I can say that after High School I went to church every Sunday, but it didn’t rate high on my list of interests. I was way more interested in football or in making money, etc. However, that all changed when I became an RCIA sponsor and started learning about the faith. I got hooked on the mass. I came here to St. Jude every morning for mass before work. I came here to St. Jude to pray in the chapel. I read the catechism. I bought a book about the Eucharist. So, find something in the faith about which you are passionate. Learn about it. Research it. Watch YouTube videos. The more you learn, the more you will be interested. But, if you are not interested right now, it might be an obstacle to Christ.
Third, is bad habits. This might seem obvious, but it is really hard to prepare the way for Christ if we are stuck in bad habits. If we are stuck in sinful ways, it will be hard to grow in holiness. Now, there’s no reason for me to list all the bad and sinful habits that hold people back. You all know what they might be. But, my challenge to you is this: how will you change your bad habits? Don’t just accept them: I can’t change my gossiping, that’s just who I am. Don’t be satisfied by sin. Sin is never satisfying. So, how to change bad habits? First, identify them. If you don’t know what your bad habits are, just ask your spouse. They will tell you. Second, confession. Go to confession. Have your sins cleansed by God! Third, take a daily inventory. If you are trying to overcome something you have struggled with for a long time, make little goals. Simply make today a day where you will start breaking your bad habit. I’ve said this before, but I used to smoke 3 packs of cigarettes a day. I was very unsuccessful in trying to quit. But, one idea finally settled in my mind and allowed me to quit: I just have to make it today with a smoke. Just make it one day, and you are on your way to breaking your bad habits.
Ok, that was a little bit long today. But, preparing the way for the Lord is not just an important theme for Advent, it’s the important theme for our whole life. What is holding you back? Clear out those obstacles and invite Christ more deeply into your life, you won’t regret it!