Prepare the way of the Lord
With Christmas falling on a Monday this year we only have three weeks of Advent, so we must make the most of this time. Our Gospel reading today is the beginning of Mark’s Gospel (1:1-8) where we have this extraordinary character of John the Baptist, dressed in camel-skin, feeding on locusts and wild honey, preaching in the desert, and calling everyone to repentance. We are told that this is to prepare a way for the Lord and to make His paths straight. This doesn’t refer to anything physical. We’re not suddenly going to get rid of all winding roads! Rather it’s a matter of preparing our hearts and souls for the coming of Our Lord at Christmas. That’s the point of this reading.
So is there anything standing between you and God that needs to be got rid of? What are your crooked ways? If you were to stand before the judgement seat of God today, what would He hold against you? Whatever it is, that’s what you are called to try and eliminate. This is how we make the Lord’s paths straight and prepare for His coming.
Advent, therefore, is a very good time to make a good and humble confession of our sins in the Sacrament of Penance. We can easily dream up all kinds of excuses not to do so. For example, “Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest?” Well, Our Lord made the Apostles His first priests and commanded them to preach penance to the whole world. He gave to them and to their successors the power of forgiving sins in His name when He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” (John 20:22). He wills us to confess to His priests so that we may obtain forgiveness of our sins and be delivered from eternal punishment. Is it possible to be forgiven outside of Confession? Yes, but only in extraordinary circumstances when there is no priest available and we make an act of perfect contrition, which can be very hard to do – to have deep sorrow for our sins purely out of love of God and for having offended Him, and even in this case we must have the intention to confess to a priest at the first available opportunity.
Another excuse is, “I used to go to Confession but it didn’t stop me sinning again.” We could also say there was a time when I washed but it didn’t prevent me from getting dirty again. I used to eat but now I’m hungry again! The soul is like the body and it has to be cared for. Our Lord said, “Only he who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13). Just as you wash and eat for today, so you need to take care of your soul for today.
A further objection might be, “My sins are far too terrible for God to forgive.” On the contrary, there is no sin too great for God to forgive if we tell Him we’re sorry. This is a matter of faith. JESUS pardoned great sinners throughout the Gospel. Think of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11), Zacchaeus the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10) and the thief on the cross (Luke 23: 39-43) to name a few. If your sins are great, throw yourself at the feet of JESUS like the prodigal son in the parable (Luke 15:11-32). Have no fear. Repent, receive pardon and be at peace.
People are sometimes so foolish as to think they will confess as they are about to die and not before. I say foolish because generally people die as they live, and so the way to die well is to live well. Don’t allow yourself to remain in mortal sin out of pride. And what if you die before a priest can get to you? What if you die suddenly in an accident? We hear all the time of people dying unexpectedly. To think you will confess only on your deathbed is taking a great risk with your eternal salvation.
God’s mercy is a great gift. So don’t hold back from letting Him restore you to a state of grace should you have lost it, and reconciling you to Himself. And the way God wants you to do that is through the ministry of His priests. “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”
Fr Paul Gillham, IC