Taking a good look at our inner selves

Al Cariño
Advent C2
Reproduced with Permission

The desert has often been the launching pad of great religious events and movements. And rightly so for spiritual writers have always identified a "desert experience" with deep, intense and prolonged prayer. For example it was only after Moses spent 40 days and nights praying in a desert mountain that God entrusted him with the Ten Commandments. Jesus did the same before He started His public ministry. And the same can be said of John the Baptist when the word of God came to him in the desert to make Isaiah's prophecy his life-mission: "A voice of one crying out in the desert: "'Prepare the way of the Lord,...'" so that "'all mankind shall see the salvation of God'" (Lk.3:1-6).

In the days of old, when a king intended to tour his dominions, he sent couriers to tell the people to prepare the roads. Obviously, when John, quoting Isaiah, said, "Every valley shall be filled,... every mountain and hill shall be made low,... winding roads shall be made straight, ... rough ways made smooth," he was not referring to a physical but to a spiritual preparation that each one must undertake to be able to receive the Lord when He finally comes. Isaiah's "road" metaphors will be of great help to us to make the Season of Advent more meaningful. We can use them as the starting points for a serious examination of conscience as we prepare to receive Jesus in our hearts on Christmas day.

Valleys to be filled. What are our low-lying, swampy areas? Do we stand on solid spiritual grounds? Or are we so down and out that we move from one frustration to another with no hope for the future? Do we live in trust or are we always suspicious of others? Seeing how morally bankrupt we are, do we live in self-pity, saying, "Others just do not care about me" or we just give up on ourselves altogether, saying, "There is nothing I can do to help myself?"

Mountains and hills to be made low. Do we not find it easy and enjoyable to talk about our successes or our possessions but squirm when things that matter are brought up before us such as helping a neighbor in need or paying a just wage? Do we have a self-righteous attitude and thus are contemptuous of those who do not meet "our standards?" In our homes, do we not give our feelings and opinions the highest priority and refuse to understand those of our parents, spouses or brothers and sisters? When someone gets in trouble specially of his own making, do we not find it very easy to say, "He deserves what he gets!" instead of spending time and effort to help him straighten out his life?

Winding roads to be made straight. Are we swayed by the latest trends, not only in fashion but also in our moral behavior -- the "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" kind? Do we follow the line of least resistance instead of standing up to our principles? When we have a quarrel with someone, do we not find it easier to avoid him or even continue to put him down before others instead of going up to him with respect and effect a reconciliation?

Rough ways to be made smooth. Do we exert effort to be genuinely nice to others or do we rather not care even if our rough ways hurt other people? Do we find ourselves always talking about love but never taking steps to make ourselves a little more lovable? Do we even make ourselves less lovable by habitually engaging in all kinds of vices like alcohol or drugs, gossiping and slander, etc.?

From the preceding and more, it is obvious that there are many rough edges in our own "life-road." There is therefore much that we can learn and do from John.

Before God's word came to John, he spent time in the desert praying. Then only could he tell what other people should do: soldiers not to extort, those with two cloaks to give one away and tax collectors to collect only what was prescribed. We also need some kind of a desert experience, a time of intense prayer, if the word of God is to come to us to set our own "life-road" straight. For it is in prayer that we will be able to discern what in the words of St. Paul, "is best ... pure and blameless until the day of Christ" (Phil. 1:10).

Finally, John invites us to repentance so that our rough edges -- our weaknesses and sinful inclinations -- will be made smooth. For if we repent and change for the better, then God's grace will be able to work wonders in us. Responding to this call on Advent is the best way to prepare ourselves for the coming of our Lord and Savior into the world and into our hearts. For with it John's prayer will be realized in each one of us: "All mankind shall see the salvation of God." Then together with the Church we can truly and joyfully pray with great expectation: "Come, Lord Jesus, come!"