Advent is a season of hope because it is a time to remind us again that the Lord Jesus is coming and want to be ready to welcome him. If no one reminds us of this truth then we lose hope and get discouraged in this life. So we have John the Baptist to help us. “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey” He wore poor clothing, didn’t have money, lived on Providence, and preached repentance of sin saying: “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” But did anyone listen? The Gospel says that the multitudes went out to him to be baptized “as they acknowledged their sin” John led a public penance service to those who listened to the word of God. And so these people were ready when God came disguised as a man in the person of Jesus Christ.

The question for us this Advent is: Will we be ready to welcome Christ when he comes again the Second Time, not in obscurity but in glory? We will if we use this time of Advent to prepare, if we listen to the words of John the Baptist and acknowledge our sin and ask for forgiveness for the times we did not love God who loves us so perfectly. And if you have faith, you will have recognized that John the Baptist has visited us recently here in Cedartown, here in our parish. Remember Fr. Andrew, the Franciscan priest who came the weekend I was away on pilgrimage? What was he like? A little odd, a little strange because he wore poor clothing; he didn’t have money, and lived on the Providence of God. And he preached similar words that John the Baptist did, preached a message of repentance and about how the Pharisees and Sadducees rejected Jesus for their own beliefs. And some of you responded to Fr. Andrew and went to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. This past Thursday we had several priests here at St. Bernadette and we had a communal penance service, much like the one John the Baptist led, to continue this ministry of reconciliation with the Lord, a time to cleanse our soul again and prepare for his coming.

John preached Baptism and repentance of sins and as Christians we now celebrate these as two ways in which we receive God’s grace and mercy. We know baptism cleanses our soul of sin with the fire of the Holy Spirit, but for the sins committed after baptism we have the sacrament of confession. Last month when I went to Rome I had the privilege of seeing and listening to the words of our new Holy Father, Pope Francis at his Wednesday Audience. He is like a new John the Baptist, and large crowds from around the world come to see him, more than 50 thousand were there at this particular gathering. And he gave a similar message that John the Baptist gave 2000 years ago. He spoke baptism and repentance of sin. He focused on how we pray in the Creed: “I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sin” He said that we should remember our baptism date the same way we remember our birth date because that is when we became children of God. He said that is our homework assignment to find out our baptism date and then celebrate it every year. I can remember my baptism date easily because it is also my sister Heidi’s birthday.

January 9th. But I recently found out in my trip to Lourdes that St. Bernadette was also baptized on January 9th. So you all have some homework to do this week. The pope said that our baptism is our birth certificate as Christians. But as children, we get into trouble sometimes, we don’t live as God’s children, we sin. Now we cannot be re-batized just like we cannot be reborn from our mothers. But we can be forgiven through the grace of Confession. He said, “When we go to confess our weakness, our sins, we go to ask the pardon of Jesus, but we also go to renew our Baptism through his forgiveness. And this is beautiful; it is like celebrating the day of Baptism in every Confession. Therefore, confession is not a…torture chamber, rather it is a celebration. Confession is for the baptized, to keep clean the white garment of our Christian dignity!”I guess that is why the pope goes to confession at least every two weeks. See how our Holy Father encourages us to have the right perspective of the Christian life, to live not as putting a burden on us but as freeing us to be truly happy and filled with peace.

Sadly, some treat their Catholic faith as a burden. They remain connected to Church but don’t produce good fruits that are evidence of true conversion, like the Pharisees who were heard John the Baptist but thought he was odd or too different to believe. And so they go out and see him but they don’t listen to him. They don’t repent and change their lives. Many Catholics do the same. They may go to mass from time to time when they feel like it, but it is not the most important event of their week. They don’t follow the teachings of the Church on marriage, on going to Confession, on keeping holy the Lord’s Day. “That’s too much. That’s odd” they’ll say. They have a fear of being different from the world. And so they continue to live like the world. But being Catholic is odd, it is very different, especially in our society of materialism and sensuality. I mean, one of our heroes is a man who wore camel hair and ate locusts!

But this strange man’s message is still relevant today because he spoke the Word of God to prepare us to welcome the Son of God. But does The Baptist’s message of repentance sound encouraging to you or discouraging? Well, it depends on your perspective. If you have no desire to change your life in order to follow God, then his words are discouraging and so you turn away like the Pharisees and the Sadducees. But if you trust God and know that he loves you, then even though John’s words challenge you, you know that they are inspired by the Holy Spirit and it is the truth you need to hear, the instructions that will protect and guide you in this life. That is why the Church has preserved the words of St. John the Baptist in the Bible as part of the Holy Scriptures and we use them even today to encourage us so that we might have hope. So be encouraged and let us help one another be ready for Christ’s coming. None of us are worthy of Jesus. Even John the Baptist knew that he wasn’t worthy to carry his sandals. Therefore let us follow the words of the voice in the desert crying out: “Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths”
so that we might be like those crowds in the Gospel who truly repented of their sins, and not be a brood of vipers who flee from the truth. Even if we have to go out of our way this Advent let us be prepared to welcome the Lord when he comes and glorify God for his mercy. Amen.

St. Bernadette Roman Catholic Church
101 South College Street
Cedartown, GA 30125
(770) 748-1517
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