Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary- Homilies

"Repentance: The Path of Interior Freedom"
Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent

Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
5 December 2010
Year A

During this time of advent we hear a lot from the Prophet Isaiah. We can consider his writings to be the most profound when speaking about the future Messiah. It’s almost as if he personally knows the One of whom he is speaking. For instance, in today’s first reading we hear the famous prophecy of the future Messiah-king. Notice the connection to the line of King David – the stump of Jesse and the spirit of the Lord – the spirit of God given to individuals to enable them to fulfill missions otherwise beyond their control. He then goes on to list the virtues of the king – one who will be an example of excellence, favoring the weak and the poor. And finally, for Isaiah, perfect justice leads to perfect peace; depicted here as a return to paradise.

Centuries pass since the time of Isaiah and his divine predictions. Hope was seemingly lost for the Israelite people. Until we hear “a voice of one crying out in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths!” John the Baptist was Israel’s biggest sensation since the Prophet Elijah – the one who was able to call down fire from heaven and make the skies bring forth rain at his word – since the time of the prophecies of the coming Messiah announced from afar. John appears as the dividing line between the two Testaments of Sacred Scripture – the Old and the New. As St. Augustine comments:

“[H]e is the personification of antiquity and the announcement of new times. As representing antiquity, he was born to elderly parents. As one who is a harbinger of new times, he shows that he has been a prophet from his mother’s womb…John is called ‘the prophet of the Most High,’ because his mission is to go before the Lord to prepare his ways, teaching the knowledge of salvation to his people.”

He was not something you would see everyday and people were flocking to him. They wanted to listen to him, to catch a glimpse of him, and learn from him. He was filled with divine favor, his proclamation of repentance sounded much like a call of justice from the Lord and certainly he was a model of virtue. Given the character of the Baptist, the purpose of his mission and the prophecy of Isaiah in our first reading, it is no wonder that many of the people that came to him thought that he might be the one – the Messiah. He rebukes this line of thought in his own words – “the one who is coming after me is mightier that I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals.” His message is perfectly clear – “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” This message is his entire life; his whole being is defined by Jesus and his role as precursor of the Messiah.

In our own lives as Christians, we can learn from him. First of all, advent is a time to hear the message of the Baptist – “repent and prepare the way of the Lord.” Each and every day during this holy season – and throughout our lives – is an opportunity to draw closer to Jesus and develop a personal and living friendship with Him. Sin, fear, lack of compassion, indifference to matters of the soul, mediocrity and so on – these things, however are a hindrance, obstacles to drawing closer to the Heart of Christ. That is why John’s message of repentance is so important. We live in a very superficial world that fails to take time to reflect upon that which is truly important. We tend to fill up our lives with all sorts of activities – including work, sports, academics – and never slow down and settle our hearts, to reflect, pray and listen to the voice God trying to pierce through all the distractions we have built up around us. Why do we do this? Perhaps we are afraid of listening to God? Maybe we are afraid of what He may have to say to us? Maybe by looking at those obstacles, those hindrances to growing closer to Jesus found in our own hearts, we are afraid of what we might find? But if that is the case then we miss the meaning of the calling of the Baptist. His mission was to prepare a people ready to greet the Savior – a holy people, a people with hearts open to the Lord. If we are uncomfortable with repentance then we miss the meaning of life itself. What we learn from the Baptist, then, is that repentance is not finger-wagging or a moralistic ultimatum by which we are scared into holiness. No, he teaches us that we have to pay attention to the call of repentance because through its grace we are brought to a closer friendship with Jesus. By making a genuine examination of conscience every night and by receiving the grace of healing and forgiveness through the Sacrament of Penance, Jesus removes those hindrances, those obstacles to His love, He lifts us up from our sins and sets us on the path to interior freedom – freedom of the heart – and we get a glimpse of heaven. The path of interior freedom is becoming, little by little, the men and women God has created us to be – we become fully human.

It is by going to the wilderness of our hearts where we find the abiding presence of God within. There we find the Baptist crying out to us – “repent, the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” The voice of John the Baptist demands that we be prepared for the coming of the Lord; that we be prepared for the approaching salvation. May our prayer of repentance throughout this holy season echo that of today’s opening prayer of the Mass: God of power and mercy, open our hearts in welcome. Remove the things that hinder us from receiving Christ with joy, so that we might share his wisdom and become one with him when he comes in glory, for he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Springfield, MA


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