“A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all mankind shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” (Isaiah 40:3-5)
I consider it both a blessing and a privilege to have served in our archdiocesan sister parish in the Dominican Republic from 1992-96. La Parroquia Sagrada Familia, or Holy Family Parish, at that time consisted of the main village, Sabana Yegua, and more than 20 outstations, which we referred to as campos (campo is a Spanish word for “field”). Each of these outstations had a worshipping community, and we, the priests, would visit them on a regular basis, celebrating Mass and the Sacraments, and participating in their church-related meetings. We, of course, spent much of the time on the road. The condition of the roads we traveled varied. While we reached some of the campos by paved highways, others required moving our vehicles over bumpy dirt paths. At times, we encountered flooded roads, washed-out bridges, or rocky paths, terribly worn by traffic and erosion.
One day, I was driving one of the parish pickup trucks and I came to an intersection that was under construction. It was all gravel and dirt, pitted with deep potholes. As I drove closer to the intersection, I spotted a small boy with a shovel, busily filling in one of the potholes with dirt. He was so small that when he stood the shovel in an upright position, it was twice his height. I pulled the truck up to the boy and said, “What are you doing?” The boy replied, “I’m fixing the road for you.” Then he stretched out his hand to me and said, “Give me a peso.”
Advent is the season when we focus on “fixing the road.” As we read in Scripture, John the Baptist, the precursor of Christ, appeared on the scene, crying out: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths.” We prepare for the coming of the Lord interiorly through our assent of faith and our practice of prayer, and exteriorly through our works of mercy, charity and justice. Anticipating the coming of the Lord is not so much a passive waiting as it is an active preparation, and, at times, it will require clearing roads, repairing paths and building bridges.
The Lord is coming. He comes in many ways into our lives: in the Word proclaimed, in the Sacraments celebrated and in prayers uplifted. He comes to us in a very special way in our interaction with other people, as well. We await his coming, but we have much work to do. The Lord runs forth to meet us, but the road between the Lord and us is often filled with obstacles.
Clear the road. I have met many people in my ministry who are extremely busy in life. Often, Sunday Mass gets pushed to the side because of their busy-ness. However, the need to encounter Christ in Word and Sacrament is still there. What Christ offers his people in the Sunday Mass cannot be replaced by the endless stream of activities in which people find themselves. There is a need to clear the road of some of that activity, the road that leads to the proclamation of the Word of God and the celebration of the Eucharistic feast.
Repair the path. Many people need to rebuild the path to personal prayer. All prayer is a response to God’s loving initiative. He constantly calls out to us, though the distractions of life sometimes make it next to impossible to hear. This Advent season is a good time to reconnect with God through prayer – praying a rosary, meditating on a passage from Scripture, or reading a spiritual classic. Rebuilding the path of prayer is rebuilding life-giving communication with God.
Build bridges. Christ comes into our lives through other people – through family, friends, acquaintances, co-workers and even strangers. However, we all know how tricky relationships can be, and how necessary it is to build bridges when relationships fracture. Is there a member of your family with whom you are not speaking because of some bygone argument that got out of hand? Are you having a hard time relating to a co-worker because of some annoying habits? Are you afraid to enter into dialogue with others because they are of a different race, culture or creed?
When we shut out people from our lives, we run the risk of shutting out Christ. Building bridges between others and ourselves takes time, energy and courage, but we may just encounter our Lord in the process.
During this Advent Season, we fix our hearts on encountering Christ. Let our prayer to him be this: “I’m fixing the road for You.”