Advent Reflection, Sister Jean Augustine
Second Sunday, December 4, 2022
The season of Advent. . .a time of waiting and longing for something to happen. Last Sunday, we reflected with Bishop Bartchak who celebrated liturgy here at Caritas Christi, beginning a new liturgical year . . .a time of preparation for the coming of Christ on the Feast of the Nativity. To refer to this time as a period of waiting underscores the common understanding that to wait means “to remain stationary, to stay in place, in readiness. . .a period of inactivity. Waiting presupposes expectation; we hope that something will happen and may be frustrated with delays and being inconvenienced. Let’s admit our impatience but consider what we are awaiting . . .and in Advent Who is the Promised One Whose Coming has been foretold . . .the Desire of the Nations. That confirms our belief that the Lord will come to save us and His joy will be ours.
As we reflect on today’s reading from St. Matthew, we realize the theme of quiet waiting is overlaid by a dynamic situation in which John the Baptist appeared preaching in the Judean desert. Clad in camel hair, a leather belt around his waist, a diet of locusts and wild honey, this eccentric messenger had been predicted by Isaiah as –Á Voice of one crying out in the desert. Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Attracting great crowds. . .from Jerusalem, all over Judea, the area around the Jordan. John captivated his audience by commitment to his message: Tell it like it is. . .Repent of your sins. . .come. . .to be baptized as you renounce sin. . . and determine to amend your ways.
John lashed out when he spied the group of Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism. The language used to greet them, strong and attacking, violent and wrathful was unsparing. Matthew saw these religious leaders as enemies of Jesus and had John mince no words in calling them out. “Brood of vipers. . .Who warned you to run away –flee the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. Their hypocritical behavior stirred up the fury of John whose strong challenge attacked their unrepentant sinfulness. He calls for a change of heart and the task he applies to us–to make straight –demands hard work. . .removing the barriers that obstruct anything that restricts our relationship with God and with our neighbor. We need to dig out, cut down, shovel and grind whatever obstructs ease in navigation. In the process of repenting, especially for misdeeds or moral shortcomings, give evidence of your repentance.
John questions the sincerity of the learned and pious visitors who regularly bring up their connection with Abraham . . .it was a claim of self-righteousness which John turns around to get this group thinking about service, deeper probing into the meaning and responsibility. It’s insufficient to sit back on their traditions . . .give proof of your motivations…can’t rest on one’s laurels. . .think beyond the call to conversion. . .the axe lies at the root to take care of the unproductive tree. John describes his own baptism with water for repentance., and bears witness to Christ in his preaching. . . the Christ Who comes after me will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Jesus willingly submitted himself to the baptism of John, intended for sinners, in order to fulfill all righteousness.
John the Baptist announces the Christ with high praise, stating his own unworthiness in comparison. The prophet looks to the future but insists on repentance as the preparatory step. the kingdom of heaven is at hand. We followers of Christ and sinners wait but not without promise once we’ve taken the necessary actions –being contrite, having sincere sorrow with a firm intention of sinning no more. This is the message of John the Baptist: As a sign of your repentance PRODUCE GOOD FRUIT. If the tree fails to produce good fruit, it’s to be cut down and burned. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states “the beginning of good works is the confession of evil works. You do the truth and come to the light. Many sins harm the neighbor and one must do what is possible in order to repair the harm (e.g., return stolen goods, restore the reputation of someone slandered, pay compensation for injuries) What’s that good fruit? Raised up from sin, the sinner must still recover his full spiritual health by doing something more to make amends for the sin; he must make satisfaction for or “expiate” his sins. The sinner who is penitent repents. . .confesses and intends to make reparation to the degree he/she is able.
As I share these thoughts about this Scripture –repentance and reparation are central. . .one, just discussed concerns individual acts, but I reference the current issue of reparations in a wider historical context and urge serious study and prayer. One concerns the issue of Slavery in the U.S. and also the brutal acts of terrorism inflicted by Russia in its illegal invasion of Ukraine. The idea of reparation arose that blacks should be paid for their unpaid work over the centuries and to even out racial inequities in housing, education and business ownership. This would be the work of our Federal Government with the support and advocacy of the public. with all children of Abraham actively engaged. When meditating on today’s Gospel and applying its lessons of repentance and reparation, one comes to recognize every offense committed against justice and truth entails the duty of reparation, even if its author has been forgiven. One who has suffered harm must be given moral satisfaction. . . it obliges in conscience. All are bound to bear good fruit to avoid the axe that lies at the root . . .John the Baptist is clear to the individual penitent and to nation states in their denial of justice and charity. This intention is not a moral abstraction but an answer to the question: What is Contrition without Reparation?