09 December 2018

Preparing the Way of the Lord

2nd Sunday of Advent
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Lent reminds us that we are anointed priests – sacrificing, interceding, sanctifying. Ordinary Time reminds us that we are anointed kings – ruling by serving, ransoming ourselves for others. Advent – especially the 2nd Sunday of Advent – pushes us to remember that we are anointed prophets of the Lord. We are reminded that, like John the Baptist, it is our mission to “prepare the way of the Lord, [to] make straight his paths.” Our mission as prophets begins with baptism and continues uninterrupted day-to-day until we are called home. Paul writes, “I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it. . .” So, we do the good work of preparing the way of the Lord in this world “until the day of Christ Jesus.”
What does “being a prophet” look like in 2018? Look to John the Baptist. He comes out of the desert, a desolate place, a place devoid of life. He finds his voice there. Outside family, friends, culture, and civilization, John finds a voice to proclaim the Coming Christ. He doesn’t use this voice to promote himself. He speaks of Another. He doesn’t prepare the way for his own celebrity. He celebrates Christ. He doesn’t try to make his own life easier by claiming some sort of divine connection. He makes the paths straight for the Lord. He doesn’t try to “fit in” or blend in. He preaches against the cultural grain, against the dominant powers of the world. He is not concerned about being comfortable with his role or finding satisfaction in his ministry or being a team player. His is a lonely voice. He does not coddle the establishment or the revolutionaries, the elite or those who claim to speak for the oppressed. He calls them all – every one – to repentance, to baptism, and to a life of good fruits. He points again and again to Christ, the mightier One, the One Who Comes to baptize in the Spirit. Always pointing toward Christ, always toward Jesus. And he dies without regret, refusing to compromise, refusing to speak a lie just “to get along.” That is what a prophet does. Two thousand years ago, last week, today, and tomorrow.

Now, if all that sounds like I'm pushing you to become soldiers in the culture war that's currently consuming western civilization, I'm not. I'm not saying that to be a prophet of Christ you must don hair-shirts and march about, protesting this or that cultural abomination; or fling yourself at public sinners, or stand on street corners with poster board signs that read, “REPENT! THE END IS NEAR!” In fact, most of that kind of behavior damages the credibility of our faith, making the Church look like some kind of doomsday cult. Pope Benedict XVI likened the contemporary Church to the Church as she existed in first two-hundred years after the resurrection – out of favor with the dominant class; politically weak; crippled by internal conflicts and scandal; floundering in her efforts to evangelize; and attacked from all sides by paganism, worldliness, and government suspicion. This is when he noted that the Church of the future would be smaller and more faithful. As the dominant culture withdraws its favor from the faith, those in the Church who no longer see any social advantage to belonging to the Church will leave. What's left will be those who truly believe. The Church the martyrs' died to nourish.
I believe we are seeing this papal prophecy come to pass in our lifetimes. How do we respond if we choose to remain faithful? First, we hold firmly in our hearts and minds the message of Advent: Christ has come; Christ will come again. We wait patiently for his coming at Christmas, learning how to wait patiently for his Second Coming at the end of the age. Second, while we wait, we grow in holiness by faithfully attending to the sacraments; praying daily; completing works of mercy; being vibrant witnesses for Christ in our schools, workplaces, and homes. This doesn't mean shouting at sinners, throwing Bibles at the heathens, or forcing others to endure our religiosity. It means speaking and behaving like Christ wherever we are. It means never compromising the faith for popularity. Never accommodating the world for mere convenience. Third, and here's where my Dominican training comes to bear, how well do you know your faith? Do you study scripture? The Church Fathers? Do you own a copy of the Catechism? If so, do you read it? Do you know something of the Church's 2,000 year old history? If pressed, can you explain to your children, grandchildren, your neighbors why the Church teaches against abortion, artificial contraception, same-sex “marriage,” and encourages us to help the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized? And lastly, remaining faithful in these turbulent times requires that we have a clear, unsentimental view of the Church herself. She is always one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The men and women who manage her earthly affairs are sometimes none of these. There will be times – and we are in one right now – where the Church herself must be confronted by her own prophets. This too is part of the difficult reduction our future holds.
So, after all that, are you ready to be a prophet? You are ready to be a prophet if you are ready to acknowledge your sin. Repent. Turn around. Face God. Produce good fruit first and then expect it from others. You are ready if you can call out injustice; condemn oppression; defend the weak and helpless; stand firm on God's Word, preaching and teaching His truth w/o compromise or accommodation. We are ready if we can live waiting on the Lord, at peace while proclaiming with our every word and every deed: “Prepare! Christ is coming”

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