He gathers the lambs
On August 24, 1981, twelve children from Saranac Lake, led by two adults, began to descend from the crest of wooded Ampersand Mountain, which they had just climbed. Ten year-old Kathryn Dekkers, the last in line, stopped for a minute to tie her shoestrings. When she tried to catch up with the strung-out party she unfortunately took the wrong turn of the trail. In moments she was lost in the depths of the great Adirondack forest.
As soon as the leaders noticed that she was not with them, they wisely completed the trip and reported her missing. Everybody was deeply concerned. The last time a hiker had gone astray in that area in 1896, he had never been found.
Kathryn’s father and brothers quickly assembled a searching party of 200 to comb the woods. They fanned out from the trail and kept looking for three days. Finally, thanks to a hunch of one of the hunters in the posse they discovered the little wanderer. Kate was hungry and a little scratched-up but otherwise sound in body and mind. In fact, her only real fear was facing her mother. She had lost her socks and was afraid of a big scolding.
Now somebody might ask (say a robot): Why should 200 people take three days off and go traipsing through the woods in search of one small child only ten years of age?
Anybody with a heart could answer. All the living things of earth that God has created are precious. Most precious among his creatures is the human being, no matter how small. He made us lovingly in his own image and likeness. He made sparrows, too; but we are worth more to him and to our fellowmen than many sparrows.
“… Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.” (Isaiah, 40: 10-11. Today’s first reading).
-Father Robert F. McNamara
Q348: Today the reading from St. Paul is talking about radical cosmic violence on the “day of the Lord” (2 Pt 3:8-14). Is he deliberately trying to scare us?
Permit me to draw an analogy. We “aficionados” of crab meat – both as cooks and as consumers – are aware that growing crabs “molt” every so often as they grow. This means that they shed their outer shell, which does not grow, to make room for a new shell more conducive to housing their growing body. And they need lots of “moisture” to avoid death and to make the process less painful. This “self-shedding of the old” is doing “radical violence” to what we call the crab’s body. But it is absolutely necessary in order to avoid death from suffocation in his “old” lifestyle.
Now take that analogy to the spiritual level. St. Paul is saying (in effect) that we, too, must make “every effort to be found without stain or defilement” when the Lord comes again. Notice that it calls for effort on our part; we don’t just waltz our way into heaven – it takes work, albeit joyful work. We need to shed our old “shells” of selfishness and pride, as well as our disobedience to the teachings of the Church Magisterium in matters of faith and morals (such disobedience is also sinful and stubborn pride, is it not?).
St. Paul is warning us not to be caught wrapped in a useless shell of cultural conformity that prevents spiritual growth. Continued spiritual growth is an absolutely essential part of our preparation for eternity; it is our way of “preparing the way of the Lord” who will come again at a time unknown to us, without warning. We need the “moisture” of prayer, humility and trustful obedience to the Magisterium to avoid eternal death.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! Our loving Father in heaven does not desire that anyone perish from obstinate sin (CCC #2822). The Church intercedes and implores God’s mercy daily (CCC #1037). The King is going to return, and we pray to hasten his return: “Come, Lord Jesus” (CCC #671). Until then, especially during this Advent season, we continue to be reconciled with God and with the Church through the Sacrament of Penance (CCC #980).
Q505: Today’s readings (Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; Mark 1:1-8) seem totally focused on John the Baptist. Is there anything there that also relates to me?
Several years ago, a fellow preacher named Daniel Houghton perked my interest when he described the difference between turkey (or deer) hunting, and pheasant hunting. In one you sit and “wait passively” in a concealed “blind,” and hope a target comes along. In the other, you get out there to be seen, “actively wait” for a target while walking the fields, and make things happen.
In today’s readings we hear two commands from the Lord: Give comfort, and Prepare the way for the Lord. One is from a prophecy of Isaiah, the other from Mark’s gospel quoting Isaiah. Both are commands, calling us to “active,” not passive involvement in the work of living and spreading the Good News.
As Rev. Daniel would put it, “active waiting” for the Lord takes our prayers and turns them into action. Active waiting turns our prayers for the hungry into food boxes, and our prayers for the oppressed into political pressure to bring about liberty. Active waiting turns our prayers for the homeless into soup kitchens, shelters, job training and counseling. Active waiting turns our prayers for the sick and lonely into visits and invitations. Active waiting turns our prayers for peace into acts of mercy and justice that span regional and national borders. Active waiting transforms individuals and parishes into doers of the word, and not just hearers only.
John the Baptist went on to tell his listeners (this time in Matthew’s gospel) to demonstrate the way they have repented and changed their lives, by “producing good fruit.” Luke would elaborate on this by repeating the advice of the Baptist about active discipleship: share your possessions, do not defraud anyone, and be happy with your wages. “Active waiting” is producing the “good fruit” of a life lived for the service and comfort of others.
KNOW YOUR CATECHISM! The Gospels call us to believe their message, and share it with others (CCC #515). Your “active involvement” in the mission of Christ can be a leaven for others, provide comfort, and lead them to the truth (CCC #854).
Prepare the Way of the Lord
Isaiah tells the Jews in Babylon that their exile is almost over. God will lead them back through the desert to a new Jerusalem, so they should prepare the way for his coming. Many Jews believed that the prophet Elijah would return to earth to call the people to live holy lives in preparation for God’s coming. Mark’s Gospel begins with John the Baptist answering the call and fulfilling the role of Elijah. How does he do it? By calling the people to repent. Sounds simple: just be sorry for your sins! But there is more to it than that. The kind of repentance John calls for involves a complete change of direction, from self absorption to self-surrender, from self-indulgence to self-sacrifice, from selfishness to love. We may never meet such a strange looking prophet like John the Baptist, but God still speaks to us — through the scriptures, through the church, through our families, through the circumstances of our lives. If we hear his words and respond, we shall be preparing the way before him.
Lord, let us see your kindness and your glory in our midst. So live in us and guide our words and actions that we may prepare the way before you. Let us be your gospel, proclaiming “here is your God! Let us be servants of your son, Jesus, and instruments of his salvation to our neighbor.