Sunday, December 10, 2017

Lasallian Reflection - Second Sunday of Advent

The Gospel for the Second Sunday of Advent is the story of John the Baptist, who came out of the desert wearing a camel’s hair outfit held together with a leather belt and proclaiming that people’s sins – anybody’s sins – were forgiven simply by a baptism with water, a cleansing of the inner soul by a symbolic cleansing of the outer body.

But wait, there’s more. He said that somebody would come after him who would do even greater things, who would cleanse them on a whole new level. I’m sure that people of the time didn’t quite know what to make of it all, but they did go to have their sins forgiven, and if that meant having to be plunged into a cold, flowing river, so be it. All they had to do – and this was probably the hardest part – was to acknowledge their sins; to name them, to recognize and come to own all the ways that relationships and trusts had been broken or hurt.

It may be that it was through his own desert experience – in the stark, empty simplicity of desert life – that John the Baptist came face to face with his own sins, his own limitations, his own false inner stories. Having experienced God’s mercy by moving through his own emptiness into an appreciation of God’s presence and fullness, when he emerged from the desert, he was compelled to share the benefits of his experience with all those whose burdens were so similar to his own.

The poet Robert Frost wrote the line: “The best way out is always through.” It’s a similar good way to think about and deal with personal sins, challenges, difficulties, or just the minor inconveniences of life. Don’t try to go around them. Simply move through them, acknowledge what’s true, step forward, and step beyond their potential to skew the way that you see and encounter the world around you.

Goodness and mercy best come to the fore surrounded by a cloud of difficulties. Indeed it is this that helps them emerge in stark relief. The Indian philosopher Rabindranath Tagore once wrote: “The dark takes form in the heart of the white and reveals it.” Mother Teresa, for example, stood out as a small light in an ocean of dark poverty. Because of her example, she revealed to the world both poverty and the power of God’s goodness and mercy. She also was a voice crying in the desert.

John the Baptist invites us to follow his example and come to know what the advent of Jesus Christ might mean for us and for others. In his meditation for the Second Sunday of Advent, St. John Baptist de La Salle applies his example to the ministry of teaching. He writes that by living in the desert, John the Baptist was able “…to dispose his own heart to receive the fullness of the Spirit of God in order to make himself fit to carry out his ministry properly.” Then he says, “Because you have to prepare the hearts of others for the coming of Jesus Christ, you must first of all dispose your own hearts to be entirely filled with zeal, in order to render your words effective in those whom you instruct.” (Meditation 2.2)

This is why De La Salle so often recommended prayer and meditation to the teachers. We cannot give what we have not received ourselves, especially when it comes to the depth of our conviction, or care, or commitment to our students and school community.

The time that we take for prayer, for reflection, for quiet presence; these are the desert that is available to us for our personal renewal, insight, and the inner alignment of our priorities. And it is also these that will, like St. John the Baptist, best prepare our receptivity to the Good News of the incarnation when Christmas arrives.
(Video Version HERE)