Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-6,10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Saint John Baptist de LaSalle/Saint Stephen December 11, 2022
June 4, 1983, the day I was ordained in Charlotte was a Saturday. Later that afternoon I traveled back to Ashville and celebrated with family and friends at the Grove Park Inn. The next day, Sunday, I celebrated my first Mass at 11:00 am, at Saint Eugene Parish with three of my priest friends, my family, and several hundred parishioners. During the week that followed, I celebrated daily Mass at Saint Eugene, leaving and driving to Massachusetts, were a similar set of events would be repeated, before returning to North Carolina. That Saturday would be the first time I would celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I was having lunch with Fr. Justin Putullis, when I told him I had to leave and return to the parish to "hear confessions." "I'll come with you," he said, "and you can hear my confession first," and he did. "You don't have to say very much," he said, "people know what they have done wrong, just remind them that God forgives their sins, simply because God loves them so very much." "However, he said, “hearing your mothers' or grandmothers' confession, means listening to what everyone else has done wrong, how people have disappointed them." And you know what, he was right. The conventional wisdom is that all of us need to focus on our own sins when we confess. True enough, but the problem with sins, is that they come wrapped in blindness. By their very nature, sin deceives. We often do not see our sins until they cause us harm, and then we usually see only the result of our sin and not the sins themselves. Perhaps another approach to an examination of conscience might help. If we asked God to help us see ourselves as we really are, as God sees us, that might be more revealing, than the traditional list of deeds done wrong. Turns out, Mother or Grandmother may indeed be on to something in examining those around them. It is only their lack of focus on their own shortcomings that is off. Look at the people with whom you live and work. How are they doing?
Specifically, how are they because of your role in their lives? Do they seem to need you? Do they feel supported by you? Do they depend on you? Do they come to you when they are in need?
Do they smile when they see you? These questions might reveal as much about how you stand before God as your list of sins. Ages ago, Aristotle taught that a moral life comes down to a flourishing, a flowering. "Doing good leads to happiness. Doing wrong drains it from life." So, what is it that makes us grow and flourish? About 500 years earlier, the Prophet Isaiah described life lived in God as a flowering. "The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom. They will bloom with abundant flowers and rejoice with joyful song." Now consider Jesus and John the Baptist. Judged by the standards of the world today, and even then, neither would have been regarded as successful men, leaders who flourished. Both lived in extreme poverty; both were executed as enemies of the state, long before they could get any type of movement going. Yet, according to Saint Matthew, people flocked to the Baptist. Even his harsh words to them seem to give them new life. Had John made our second examination of conscience, he would have been confirmed in his vocation. John the Baptist was indeed helping others to grow and flourish. And when Jesus employs this same examination of conscience, his effect on others, he saw a similar result, that led him to say: "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them."
Aristotle and Isaiah are still quite right: To do good, to be graced, is to bloom and flower But, when you truly live your life for others, as Jesus and John did, that flourishing may be more apparent in the lives that surround yours, than in your own. Put another way, God might be asking you to do more rooting than blooming. The blooming lies outside yourself, in those around you, though, as it comes from within you, it is your own deep flowering. When you examine the happiness of those you work and live with, your loved ones, be certain to add some patience. Many people face great personal challenges that you alone cannot remove. God did not set you as their savior. Jesus alone is that. "Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it, until it receives the early and the late rains." Still, whatever troubles those around us face, if our own influence upon them is not at least a drop of water to help them flower, then something is wrong, and we are not bearing fruit.