Baruch 5:1-9; Philippians 11:4-6, 8-11; Luke 3:1-6
There is a hidden theme in today’s Liturgy that reverberates deep within us, a quality to the readings in this Mass that speaks to things at work deep within our hearts and souls. It is, I think, the vision that in a world filled with chaotic and terrible things there still exists the possibility of a good life, a life filled with justice, peace, goodness, wholesomeness, beauty and the things of God. Godliness is possible in a world where it seems to be almost impossible.
At a time when the Jews were being held in captivity far distant from their homeland and Jerusalem we hear in today’s first reading the Prophet Baruch proclaim:
Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights; look to the East and see your children gathered from the east and West at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be leveled. The windings shall be made straight and the rough ways smooth.
All of this applies to us as well. It tells us all of the things that shall be and must be done in order that mankind can, with God’s good graces, make its way back to God.
Much of our religious life depends primarily upon our willingness, not on the willingness of God. God’s willingness is already available to us. He is already for us; we don’t need any new version of His willingness. What is needed is willingness on our parts. What is needed is a belief in the possible rather than our surrender to the seemingly impossible. If we believe that something is possible, then it can come true. If, however, we believe that something is impossible, then it will remain impossible for us and never come true. Repentance and conversion is a process of attitudinal change so that what is seen through the eyes of men to be impossible is now seen through the eyes of God as possible.
John the Baptist went about the region of the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance which led to the forgiveness of sins, crying, “Make, ready the way of the Lord; clear him a straight path.” Hearing John’s cry, people were able to fill the valleys of their dark despair with the light of hope. Their new found converted faith was able to move away mountains of seeming impossibilities. A life that was filled with crookedness was straightened out and a life that appeared to be terribly rough was made smooth.
We too are beset with the valleys and mountains of moods. We build mountains out of the mole-hills in our moods. People we know don’t attend Mass because they don’t feel like it. Some stay away from Church because they feel that it’s filled with hypocrites. We let our moods, our feelings, and our emotions block the way of the Lord, and we refuse repentance and conversion toward a new attitude and a new version in life.
Willingness is the key to religion. It’s a matter of the will. It’s an act of choice. It’s like love. Love is something you choose to do. Affection is something you feel. Religion and seeking the Lord are something that you choose to do. Religious sentiment is something that you feel.
In our country we are beset by a mood of gloom; an all- pervasive sense of corruption filters into our senses. People feel as if they are in an impossible situation, that lights are going out in a world they once knew. Justice is bought and sold. And we feel captives in our own freedoms. We feel powerless and weak. Amidst it all there is the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Look to God and what is impossible can be changed into what is possible. Your motivations and the motivations of others can be changed. You can make a better world. Valleys of despair can be filled up. Mountains of materialism can be moved with enough faith, All that is crooked can be straightened out. A life that is terribly rough can be made smooth. If you believe with God, then with God all things are possible. Power can replace your powerlessness. It’s all a question, however, of the willingness of mankind, not the mood of mankind.
Repentance and conversion are conscious acts of our wills. They are free choices made with deliberation. They are not religious feelings or moods. They are not nice, warm, glowing, mystical feelings which come upon us before flickering candles in our churches. Repentance and conversion are conscious will-acts made in the cold light of reality and in the hard choices of our everyday lives. To separate religion and religious choices and values from our day to day choices is to remove religion from reality. Repentance and conversion are made out in the open, not in private.
John went about the entire region of the Jordan proclaiming a baptism of repentance which led to the forgiveness of sins, crying: Make ready the way of the Lord, clear him a straight path. I wonder how many of us really believe in the forgiveness of sins? How many really believe in confession, repentance, and conversion? 1 daresay that, if hard put, some would assert that we don’t need to be converted, that we’re on the way to salvation, and that forgiveness of sins is only for those who are weak. Forgiveness of sins? “Oh, that’s just old Catholic Church stuff,” some say.
Far too many of us live in a schizophrenic value world. Far too many of us believe that our society is in bad shape while at the same time asserting that our personal lives are in good shape. Far too many are quick to point out that others need conversion and repentance and yet they themselves need not confess their sins and repent. My friends, we will not be able to sustain such a schizophrenic and sick culture very much longer. Living with such split vision is not living at all.
It is, after all, a question of vision. The difference between a Christian and a good secular humanist is not a matter of differing behavior patterns. Being nice and kind and good and behaving well will not distinguish the Christian from the secular humanist. What does distinguish between them is their vision of life, their vision of its purposefulness and its finality. The Christian seeks the power and the possibilities of God. The humanist is left with the resources of mankind. The Christian stands with John the Baptist and says: “After every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be leveled… after the windings shall be made straight and the rough ways smoothed, then all mankind shall see the salvation of God.”
Are we willing to take a look? To acquire that vision? It’s all a matter of choosing. It’s never just a matter of feeling like it. It’s all a matter of conversion and repentance. It’s not up to God, it’s up to us.
“Up, Jerusalem! Stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children gathered from the east and west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God!”