John the Baptist
Second Sunday of Advent 2020
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: December 6, 2020
Who passed on the faith to you? Which people led you to embrace the faith? Perhaps a parent, or a grandparent. Perhaps a teacher or a priest. Perhaps a friend. Who was an instrument in preparing your heart for faith?
John the Baptist is described as a messenger “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” Calling out to people, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” People from the Judean countryside and from Jerusalem were going out to him to be baptized in the river Jordan and to confess their sins.
John the Baptist was preparing their hearts for faith. The season of Advent is a time waiting, of preparation, to open our hearts to faith. What were those people waiting for? For the Messiah, for God’s salvation? What are our hearts waiting for at this time?
Some of you are perhaps waiting to be loved, or to be accepted by someone, or to be healed in some way, or to be forgiven, or to be at peace with someone. During Advent, whatever else, we are all waiting and preparing our hearts for faith.
A child within it’s mother’s womb is waiting, but that child does not know what to expect, cannot imagine life outside the womb. We are like that child in the womb as we live in this life. We are waiting for heaven. In this life we cannot imagine what that heavenly life outside life in this world will be like. We see only in faith.
In our second reading from Peter today, he speaks of the patience of God with us and of our need to wait patiently and in peace. When we do not see the final goal, when we do not feel the presence of God in our lives. Then we need that faith that allows us to wait in peace.
During the season of Advent, the Prophet Isaiah is a focus. You could say that Isaiah is the prophet of Advent. In today’s first reading, Isaiah speaks of how “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low.” What are the mountains and hills that are obstacles to our faith?
Like John the Baptist we need to help one another to prepare our hearts for faith. We need to help others to persevere in faith.
One important way we do this for others is by the words we use, the words we speak to others. Our words matter. Do the words I speak to others prepare the heart of others for faith, or are they obstacles to faith? Isaiah has God speaking these words, “Comfort, O comfort my people,… speak tenderly to Jerusalem.” We need to speak words that comfort others.
In the coming of Jesus the word of God has spoken to humanity, it is Good News. A word of forgiveness. Someone once said that the whole story of Israel is the story of unfaithfulness forgiven.
Like John the Baptist we need to prepare the hearts of others for faith. The words we speak to others need to be words that bring comfort, words that are good news, words that are able to prepare the heart of another for the grace of God. The words I speak to others can either be like a mountain blocking faith or they can prepare the heart for faith.
Be a John the Baptist today, be a messenger that helps people around you to have a heart prepared for faith. Reflect on the words you speak to others. Are they good news, are they able to open the heart for faith?
2nd Sunday of Advent 2019
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: December 8, 2019
What are you taking for granted? Is there anything or anyone that you are taking for granted right now? We just saw John the Baptist in the wilderness calling for repentance, to prepare the way, baptizing people in the Jordan River as they were confessing their sins.
As he is there it says that some Pharisees and Sadducees were coming to be baptized. He speaks very hard words to them. He knows that they had no intention of truly repenting or changing. They saw themselves as members of the chosen people of God, and so presumed themselves to be special to God. John says to them, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’” John was warning them not to take for granted their relationship with God.
As we go through this Advent Season, it would a good examination of conscience to review what we might be taking for granted at this time.
Some of us might take for granted the very gift of our life. The mystery that we are alive, feeling, thinking, loving. Life itself is an incredible mystery, do we take it for granted? Is there gratitude and wonder in my heart for the gift of life?
For those who are married, do you ever take for granted your spouse? After a while it must be easy to take your husband or wife for granted. When is the last time you have shown some small act of gratitude or appreciation? When is the last time you have prayed for your spouse?
Parents and Grandparents might review if you take for granted your children or grandchildren. They can be challenging at times, but do you in your heart give thanks for the gift of your children or grandchildren? Do you pray for them?
All of us as children, do we take for granted our parents?
Each of us can look over our lives and reflect on who it is that I am taking for granted at this time.
For myself, I reflected on how I might take for granted the Priesthood. I have now been a priest for 29 years. It is easy to take for granted some of the mysteries of this vocation. When I am celebrating the Eucharist, the incredible mystery of presiding at the Mass.
There is a saying that is up in some sacristies where priests are preparing for Mass that says: “O Priest of God, Say this Mass as though it is your first Mass, your last Mass, your only Mass.” What if you knew that today would be the last time you were coming to celebrate this Eucharist? How would you focus and be attentive at this Mass?
When I am called to be with a parishioner who is dying, I need to remind myself of the privilege of being with someone at the time of their death, to anoint them and be with them at this important moment.
As a priest it is possible to take for granted my relationship with Jesus just like the Pharisees and Scribes in today’s Gospel. I can imagine John the Baptist saying to me, “do not presume to say to yourself, I am a priest of Jesus Christ.”
For all of us who are Catholics, do we take for granted our faith? Are we like the pharisees in today’s Gospel? Do we need to hear John the Baptist saying to us, “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘I am a Christian.’”
If we think, I am baptized, I go to church each Sunday,… Do we take for granted our relationship with Jesus, do we take for granted our faith? Our faith is a gift, we need to nurture and care for our faith.
In the past many would offer a Prayer for Perseverance. To persevere in faith till our death. Our faith should be like a precious jewel. We do not just leave it around carelessly. We care for it, we protect it. We need to watch that we do not take for granted our faith, care for it, protect it, nurture it.
During this season of Advent, we all need to hear John the Baptist calling out to our hearts. Repent, prepare the way of the Lord. We need to watch that we are not taking anything or anyone for granted. That includes not taking for granted our faith, our relationship with the Living God.
2nd Sunday of Advent – Year B
Fr. David Reitzel
Preached: Dec 10, 2017
Imagine yourself in the shoes of an Israelite in the time of the prophet Isaiah. The year is 587 BC. You and your family used to live in the glorious city of Jerusalem. You have fond memories of walking the streets of that city with your friends and family. You recall your frequent visits to the temple where you would pray for God’s blessings. You remember the feeling of safety provided by the large city walls and the feeling of comfort knowing that God was present among you in his temple.
But all of that is gone now. You no longer live in Jerusalem because that city no longer exists. It has been destroyed. The walls have been toppled, and the temple is no more than a pile of rubble. The place you live in now is Babylon, 1500 kilometers away. The people here, the Babylonians, are the ones who attacked Jerusalem, destroyed it, and brought you away as their slaves. You and your family work for them now, with no hope of salvation. You are now a slave. You will live a slave and you will die a slave. Your children will do the same, and your children’s children. And the irony is, you are God’s chosen people. So where is He?
Imagine how hopeless these Israelites must have felt as they looked at their situation, and saw no way out. Then imagine how their hearts must have lifted when they saw the prophet Isaiah walking through the streets of Babylon, telling everyone that he has received a message from God. For years God has been silent, but now he speaks, and what will he say? After gathering a large crowd around him, Isaiah opens his mouth and the words come out, “comfort, comfort my people, says your God.” After so much suffering and hardship, the first words that God wanted to speak to his children are words of comfort. And why should they feel comfort? Isaiah speaks again telling them, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” This can mean only one thing: God is coming. He has seen our suffering and heard our cries and now he is coming to save us. He will end our captivity in Babylon and bring us back to Jerusalem just as he had done centuries earlier with Moses in Egypt.
Imagine how the hearts of those Israelites must have been lifted as they heard these words of the prophet Isaiah. They now had hope, they now had something to look forward to. And indeed God did free them from exile.
In 539BC, 48 years after they entered Babylon, Israel was allowed to return home to the Promised Land. Once their, they started preparing the way of the Lord. They rebuilt the city, their homes, their walls, and most importantly their temple. They had prepared a place suitable for the lord to come, and once they had finished they waited, and waited and waited. Isaiah said that God was coming, but as the apostle Peter reminds us in our second reading, for God one day is a thousand years.
The people of Israel would have to wait another 500 years before their God fulfilled his promise. And when that time came a voice cried out in the wilderness saying prepare the way of the Lord. This voice did not come from the prophet Isaiah, but now from John the Baptist, who spoke about the immanent coming of Israel’s God. He encouraged them to prepare for their God by turning away from their sins.
You would think that everyone in Israel would have flocked to John. Here was a prophet telling them that their long awaited saviour, their God, was coming. But in reality, not everyone listened to John. After 500 years of waiting, some people’s hearts had grown dull, they had forgotten that their God was coming, or perhaps ceased to believe it. So when the saviour came, when Jesus made himself known, there were only some who followed him, the rest were uninterested and unprepared. They had missed the day of their Lord’s coming.
Advent is a time where we remind ourselves that we are like Israel who had to wait for the coming of their Lord. As Catholics we believe that God came 2000 years ago in Jesus Christ, but we also believe that He will come again, at a time we do not know and an hour we do not expect, and that will mark the end of time. It is precisely our ignorance of the day that makes us like Israel. We must wait, patiently, always being prepared. Will he come today, tomorrow, in 500 years, at the end of this Mass? We do not know. What we do know is that he is coming, and we want to be prepared. The words of Isaiah are for us as well. Prepare the way of the Lord.
While we hold ourselves in readiness all year round, advent is a special time of focus on preparing for our Lords coming. We go to confession, we say extra prayers, we go to Mass more often. All of these things are to prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ.
However, there is one temptation that I would like to speak of. I know you don’t need to be reminded that the lead up to Christmas is the busiest time of the year. And to hear a priest say that you need to do even more things is probably not the most welcome message but, may I try to help put things in perspective. As you run around this advent, as you prepare for parties, shop for gifts, and decorate just about everything, can you take a moment, stop, and ask yourself, “How does this prepare a way for the Lord? If Christ were to come at the end of today, would I still do what I am doing right now?” And if you’re not satisfied with the answer, then drop what you’re doing, and prepare for the way of the Lord.