Prepare the Way of the Lord

2nd Sunday of Advent 2007

Readings: Is. 11.1-10; Ps. 72.1-17; Rom. 15.4-9; Mt. 3.1-12

This morning’s Mass began with our singing that very memorable song from the play Godspell:, "Prepare the Way of the Lord." The song is inspiring, uplifting, full of hope and joy; it is a positive, happy song. It invites us to be holy.

The words of that song come from today’s readings. St. Matthew’s gospel quotes the prophet Isaiah. The reading from Isaiah gleefully promises: the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon the long-awaited Messiah: a spirit of wisdom and understanding, … a spirit of strength, …. A spirit of knowledge, and of holy fear of the Lord. Not by appearance will he judge." Isaiah then envisions a world previously unimagined and unheard of: the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and …. The calf and lion shall lie down together, with a child to guide them. Prepare the way of the Lord. And in St. Matthew’s gospel, John the Baptist proclaims those same words: "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. … Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths."

The tone of this message arouses excitement, inspiration, hope.

For Isaiah and John the Baptizer, however, these and other words led to their being killed. Both were martyred. Isaiah was killed because he not only spoke of hope, but also he criticized the status of his country’s moral life: namely, that the rich were not taking care of the poor, that the Jewish people had grown lax in their practice of worshiping Yahweh, that pagan behaviors had become popular. For this observation and judgment, he was killed. John the Baptist, after having spoken the words, "prepare the way of the Lord," continued by addressing the Pharisees and Sadducees as "you breed of vipers!" Wow. I guess he never took a Dale Carnegie course on how to win friends and influence people. No, John said it as it was. He did not sugarcoat his message! He shouts at the Pharisees and Sadducees, "Who warned you to try to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance." He concludes, "the chaff (which is the useless part of the wheat stalk), God will burn with an unquenchable fire." John also criticized the political leader Herod Antipas because he was married to his brother’s wife. John said directly, they were living in sin. For all these criticisms, John too was killed.

Prophets are admired, it seems to me, long after they have died. While living, they are a thorn in the side of many people. But here we are, 2,000 years after John the Baptist, and 2700 years after Isaiah, and we still write and sing very stirring songs about them. Rightly so. Their messages reveal a certain integrity and heroism.

In our time and place, what might we do to live more prophetic lives like Isaiah and John the Baptist? It is not easy. Let me give a few examples, but you think of your own too, please. 1) On or around January 22, this parish travels by buses to Washington, DC to participate in the Pro-Life March. For those who can’t spend a day in DC, the parish has Eucharistic Adoration from 9am to 3pm. Maybe you could spend a few minutes praying for the end to abortion. 2) Coming into church today, you saw the banner "Catholics Returning Home." This six-consecutive Sundays program starts immediately after Christmas and again after Easter. I trust that most all of us sadly know someone who is not practicing his/her Catholic faith, which requires us to be attend Mass every Sunday. Ask God for the wisdom to speak to these persons in an inviting and effective manner. 3) In today’s world, many young people have been raised with no religious faith. What a shame. Why not invite them to participate in the parish’s RCIA program which is conducted every Wednesday evening during the school year. People gather with a few of our parishioners to discuss the beliefs and practices of the Catholic faith.

You and I don’t have to worry about being killed for inviting people to be Pro-Life, to come back to church, to inquire into membership in our church. But it does require care for the other person, finding the right words and the right time to speak those words, and it requires receptivity on the part of the person to whom you are speaking. Different approaches work with different people. Sometimes, just prayer and perseverance is the best method. Sometimes, leaving religious literature around the house works. Sometimes, a heart-to-heart talk is good, and then drop the topic for the next six months. You know best what you can do, and how to do it. But, all of us, let’s do our best. In our own place and time, let’s imitate Isaiah and John the Baptist, and kindly and clearly say, "Prepare the way of the Lord."

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley