n the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his brother tetrarch of Iturea and the country of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilina: under the high -priests Annas and Caiphas: the word of the Lord came unto John the son of Zacharias, in the desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the Prophet : 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill be brought low: the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways plain: and all flesh shall see the salvation of God (Lk. 3:1-6).
Holy Mother The Church has thus far been teaching us to prepare for the Advent of Jesus by salutary fear, by inspired courage, by joyful peace, and now, as we stand almost at the threshold of the cave of Bethlehem, we are exhorted to prepare the way of the Lord by prayer and penance. Those who wish to enter into the very presence of God must be holy. That is why we are urged to do penance. Only "fools rush in where angels fear to tread." All nature and life itself attest to the fact that mortification and penance are necessary. On Gaudete Sunday we learned that all joy is purchased at the price of sorrow and the crown of heaven won only by a penitential carrying of a cross.
The little seedling must be buried in the ground and die to self before it can bring forth the beauty of a rose and perfume a garden of earth. Students must assiduously apply themselves to the task at hand if they ever wish to communicate knowledge to others. Mothers must endanger their lives in order to replenish the earth with babes that make for us a veritable heavenly nursery. Doctors must, by long vigils of study and work, prepare before they may be entrusted with the care of human bodies. Priests must be sanctified and grounded in learning so as to account themselves, as St. Paul tells us in the Advent epistle, "as ministers of Christ and dispensers of the mysteries of God." Only then are they to be entrusted with the care of immortal souls. In other words, in any life whatsoever, preparation is necessary and penance is the "divine" preparation. "Unless the seed falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone, but if it die it beareth much fruit." Unless we are willing to do penance and to prepare for Christ's coming, we cannot hope to be His disciples nor to find the journeying star that leads to His joyous crib.
St. Luke warns us in the Advent Gospel, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, and make straight his paths." This preparation of penance is to be made, as St. John exemplified, by our actions, for actions speak louder than words.
When a distinguished visitor is announced at your door, do you not make it a point to be sure that you are prepared to meet him? Do you not take pains to see that the home is properly appointed and all is ready? Holy Mother the Church announces today: "The Lord is nigh; come, let us adore." Christ the Lord is coming. He is nigh even at your doorsteps. The prophets announced His coming, and yet some of the Jews were unprepared. The Church announces again His Advent, and will it be said of you that "unto His own He came and His own received Him not"? Are you preparing by penance for the arrival of the King? Is it not possible that you miss the sweet inspirations of God's grace unless you are "attuned" to God's message?
Picture in your mind's eye a person seated at a radio or a television set that is not tuned in to a station transmitting beautiful philharmonic music. Such a person missed entirely the program. Picture again a Catholic not at all solicitous about the penance of Advent nor the beautiful story being told by Holy Mother Church. Such a one is not "attuned" to the spirit of the liturgy nor to the sweet whisperings of grace and God's inspirations in the soul, and he may entirely miss the message of Advent and the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Members of Christ's Mystical Body, hearken to the "sweetest story ever old" by the greatest mother of them all! The story is God's becoming man. The mother is the Catholic Church. Today she makes a last effort to enliven our faith, to increase our devotion and our preparation by penance for the coming of Jesus Christ. As a stimulus to our faith and devotion she asks us to look to the new crib of Bethlehem, to the altar, to the snow-white manager of a corporal. A golden chalice rests upon it. Perhaps, we have seen a nugget of gold when first mined from the earth. It is dark, grimy, and covered with dirt. Yet the miner who knows its value cherishes it, refines it, purifies and ennobles it, until one day it is returned to its proper state - shining, brilliant, pure gold! It is, then, perhaps, molded into a chalice or ciborium and, being consecrated to God's service, it holds the sacred species of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Likewise, our hearts are gold, and more precious indeed since redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God. We should therefore endeavor to purify our hearts and souls during this holy season of Advent and to sanctify them by the reception of our divine Lord in Holy Communion.
Blessed Saviour of men, the view of Calvary from afar is forbidding. The way of prayer and penance is not easy. There is only one way to Mount Calvary and that is to follow You, step by step. To look up the hill of Calvary takes great courage of heart - so give me the grace to stay close to You and accompany You each step of the journey. Bethlehem is but the first step to Calvary. Take me by the hand of grace and teach me to walk with Mary, that my life may be good and worthy of redemption.