This is a time of year with many distractions; there tends to be more shopping for a start. If we switch on the TV, the adverts are sometimes more entertaining than the programmes; as those who wish to sell us things invest heavily trying to entice us to spend. At work, for many, projects are coming to an end or people are trying to get so much completed before the Christmas break. In homes with children, there’s lots of excitement as children prepare notes for Father Christmas or ask parents [at the last minute] to get their costume ready for the Nativity at school. Others are more concerned about how they can heat their house or feed their families. Meanwhile outside of our own ‘bubbles’ there are still wars going on in The Holy Land and Ukraine, with innocent civilians being killed in amongst those who are fighting.

All of these things can take our thoughts away from what this season is about; which is getting ourselves ready to greet The Lord when He comes again. In our readings today we hear Isaiah say, ‘Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.’ This phrase is repeated in mark’s Gospel. All of these distractions; while unavoidable for some; take us away from the ‘straight path.’ We try to get everything temporal [things of this world] ready for Christmas, but how are our spiritual preparations going?

In last week’s Pastoral Letter, Bishop Philip reminded us of the 6 Holy Habits, emphasising the first Holy Habit of keeping Sunday as a rest day, keeping it special. This will help us physically and spiritually, allowing us to recharge our inner batteries. As Bishop Philip also reminded us, Catholics in this country had to attend Mass in secret to avoid persecution, now that we can freely attend many are falling away from this obligation. For whatever reason they choose to not attend, they are not following the straight path advocated in today’s Scripture readings, our focus has to be on our redemption; which will be achieved through love of God and love of our neighbour.

Our Scriptures tell us that St John the Baptist made such an impact on the people that ‘all of Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him.’ What was it about St John the Baptist that had such an impact? He preached repentance and baptised people; he was not removing any of the traditions handed down by other leaders or prophets. In hindsight, he was forming a bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament. He was the first to announce that the Messiah’ promised in the Old Testament, was coming after him, and he, a man all of Judaea and Jerusalem thought worthy to go and listen to; would not be fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandal. John the Baptist, knew his limitations and the difference between himself and Jesus, we also remember that Jesus said no better man ever lived than John the Baptist.

Before ordination to the Diaconate, the Bishop asks the presenting priest if the candidate has been found to be ‘worthy’, like many of my brother deacons, I found these words to be very powerful, because the enormity of what we were about to commit to, meant that we knew that none of us are truly worthy to take on this ministry. When I think about those words, I remind myself of my limitations and of the balancing act I need to perform between my role as a husband, my family life, my employment and the Diaconate. I know that I don’t always get it right and that can cause upset, and on occasions calendar clashes; where I may have committed to be in more than one place at the same time. I haven’t been given the gift of co-location, so I need to get better at managing my time and putting things into my diary.

Touching back to our busyness, and what seems like an endless list of things to achieve before Christmas, just think for a moment, John the Baptist was chosen by God to baptise people with water in a desert. All we are asked to do is love God and love our neighbour.

At this time of the year we can be so busy that we neglect our prayer life. Please set a time aside to pray, if possible, read the readings of the day from the Missal, sit and think; allow yourself the luxury of a few minutes with God every day. Take time out from the busyness and treat yourself to that blessing of time with God. You will probably find that your list of tasks becomes easier, because you are no longer trying to do everything under your own power. But that time out with God allows you the space to see things more clearly and may allow you to prepare a path that is straight and clear of obstacles.

Further Reading

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

Second Sunday of Advent

CCC 522, 711-716, 722: the prophets and the expectation of the Messiah
CCC 523, 717-720: the mission of John the Baptist
CCC 1042-1050: a new heaven and a new earth

Six Holy Habits

First, to keep Sunday special, as a family day, by attending Mass, the ‘source and summit’ of the Christian life, supporting your parish community. 

Second, to resolve to spend at least five minutes a day in prayer, at whatever time you find best, using the Scriptures, maybe the Gospel of the day. 

Third, to keep Friday as a day of penance in honour of the Lord’s Passion, intentionally serving the poor and needy. 

Fourth, at least once a fortnight, to pay a private visit to church for a short period of prayer before the Tabernacle. 

Fifth, to go to Confession once a month or so, like a spiritual check-up when you can personally experience God’s love and mercy.

Sixth, to join a small group for formation, prayer and fellowship, where you can share with others your own experience and hear what God is doing in the lives of others. 

Please keep in your prayers this week

  • Those who are sick, those recovering from surgery, those who are dying, the recently deceased and those who mourn.
  • All those struggling to feed their families at this time.
  • Those working to help others who are struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.
  • Those discerning a vocation and those considering coming into the Catholic Church.