My father often comments on the way home from church, usually about the way people of some parishes aggressively try to muscle their way out of the parking lot: “If only good Catholics acted like good Christians.” Very often, people outside Catholicism doubt or outrightly deny that Catholics are Christians. Our beliefs properly understood and explained can verify that we indeed are Christians, yet this very often will not convince those people. It is our behavior and our attitude toward one another that will give the proof.
From a certain perspective one can say that there are two ways of living out our Catholic Christian life: We can live it passively or we can live it personally.
To live it passively is to live out our faith life as a Pharisee or Sadducee. These observed the letter of the law and coerced others, by virtue of their office to do the same. Are we living our faith as though by a checklist of things to do, thinking that by sticking to the checklist, we’ll be OK when we meet our Lord at the Gates of Heaven? Jesus even said at one point in the Gospels: “Not everyone who calls to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father.”
John the Baptist’s cry in this week’s Gospel is the cry that echoes throughout this Advent season: “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight His paths.” John the Baptist is the critical link between the Old Testament and the New Testament, between the promise of God to His people and the fulfillment of that promise. He clearly proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, the One Who is to come. Now is the time to repent. He saw the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to partake of his baptism and calls them on their hypocrisy. They were coming because they were convinced that the end of the world as they knew it was coming, and they were out to simply save their own skins. Yet John the Baptist calls them on this, exhorting them to take his message to heart, to start living the true way, to be a team player in the business of preparing the world around them for the coming of the Messiah.
In the same way, we are also called to look honestly at ourselves. How are we living our Christian lives? Are we taking our faith seriously? The way we take our faith seriously is to take Jesus Christ seriously. If you were ever asked “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”, seriously consider that question. Any relationship takes time and effort. It also takes consistent communication. Let us ask ourselves, “Have I spent time developing my relationship with Jesus Christ through prayer? Have I trusted His promise to me that He will never leave me nor forsake me? Have I been honest in admitting the ways in which I have offended Him and ruptured this relationship which means so much?”
The sacraments of the Church are there to help us all strengthen each of our relationships with Jesus Christ. In each sacrament, Jesus comes to us in a very real and very profound way. Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? If we truly are convinced of the miracle that Jesus performs at every Mass, if we truly believe that He comes to us and within us each time we step forward to receive Him, how much more personal can this relationship be?
If we truly believe in the miracle that Jesus performs each time we come clean with Him in the sacrament of Reconciliation, we will never again doubt how close He is to us, how close His relationship with each one of us can be. It depends on each and every one of us to enter in and take and active role in this most critical of all relationships that we will ever have in our lives. Jesus relationship with us is the only one that can truly give us hope. This relationship means so much to Jesus that it cost Him His life. How much does it mean to me? How much does it mean to you?
This Advent, Jesus is reaching out to each and every one of us, to give us that hope that we long for down deep in our hearts. Let us recognize His effort and make the effort to reach back. That is the only way this relationship will grow.