Reflections on Spirituality

Prepare ye the way of the Lord ~ Advent 2nd Sunday, Steps 4-6

Scriptures: Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85, 2 Peter 3:8-14, Mark 1:1-8

Prepare the way of the Lord, prepare the way of the Lord, All people will see the salvation of our God.
Prepare ye the way of the Lord! Prepare ye the way of the Lord

The words of this song are those of the Gospel and the Prophet Isaiah, and they are the theme of this Sunday of Advent. The first setting is a chant from the Taizé community in France, the second is from the musical, "Godspell". The music moves from a Christian community in France to a Broadway production.

Last week I compared the call to wait in joyful hope during Advent to the first 3 Steps of the recovery process:

  1. We admitted we were powerless [over some addiction] – that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.

We wait for the Lord because we know our own powerlessness over so many things. We wait in joyful hope because we believe in a power greater than our own, a power which belongs to a God who loved us into being and will not abandon us.

This week I would like to make a connection between the next three steps of every 12-Step program to the scriptures of today and the season of Advent.

I agree with Fr. Richard Rohr who says that "the Spirituality of the 12 Steps will go down in history as the significant authentic American contribution to the History of Spirituality."

Our culture seems to move us towards addiction to many things — power, pleasure, gambling, shopping — and one of my mentors used to say, "Peter, we are all recovering self–a–holics."

I practice 12–step spirituality in my own life, and often recommend it to people who find it difficult to live in the world without getting swallowed up by its false values.

We are called to prepare the way of the Lord by the prophet Isaiah and by John the Baptist.

How do we actively prepare for Jesus?

How do we prepare a place for him in our hearts and in our world?

First of all, we repent. The word in Hebrew is "shuv"; in Greek, "metanoia". It is the basis of the word "Penance" and it means, simply, to turn around. To sin is to walk away from God, to turn my back on the Lord. To repent is to turn and face the one who loves me and to receive forgiveness.

We begin to do that by admitting the ways we have sinned, and the ways we have acted out of the greed, oppression and violence so common in the world around us.

The 4th Step of the recovery process is: "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of our selves."

That’s really about how we live our relationships: with God, with each other and with ourselves. When I do that, I think of sin as the misuse of a gift given us by Good for doing good.

The 2nd reading says, "all should come to repentance" and are called "to be found without spot or blemish before God, at peace." But it is not enough just to turn to God in our minds, we need to do something. We need to respond to the call in the Gospel: The people who came to John at the Jordan acknowledged their sins. They confessed what they had done or failed to do.

The day of the Lord begins when we take the 2nd step of the 12 step process: "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."

That’s what Step 5 is about: "Admitted to God, ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."

That sounds a lot like what we call the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. But it is not enough to make a list of sins and rattle them off without going deeper. The step says, "the exact nature of our wrongs."

If we are to prepare a place in our heart and our world for the Lord to be born, we need to get to the root of what we confess as our sins. What is the gift I have misused? What attitudes do my actions reveal? How am I living out of the values the world promotes rather than the values Jesus lived?

Control - the root of evil

I think the root of much of the evil we experience and do is control.

Our world tells us we have to be in control or we are not worth anything. The world worships control and goes to great lengths to keep it, at the expense of anyone or anything that gets in the way, even at the risk of destroying the world by polluting the environment or starting a nuclear war.

But the Gospel does not call us to be in control, and life does not allow us total control over the most important things. Jesus invites us to surrender to the only one who can make us whole and safe and at peace.

When I use my TV remote, I recall my own desire to be in control, and I think of what someone once told me, "the only true control is remote!" When I confess my sins in the Sacrament of Penance, I confess the times I hurt others or myself because I held on to control, or was terrified of not having it.

Finally, there is the 6th Step: "Were entirely ready for God to remove all these defects of character."

Knowing that I cannot make myself whole or holy or even fully human, I turn to the God who says in the first reading, "Comfort, give comfort to my people ... speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her guilt is expiated, her sins are forgiven."

I listen to the beautiful words of the Responsorial Psalm, "Near indeed is salvation to those who follow God’s way. Kindness and truth shall meet, justice and peace shall kiss."

The God who reconciles all things, gives us the grace to be reconciled with each other, with Christ and with the earth itself. We are given the courage and the power to risk looking at ourselves with total honesty and to even confess that we are sinners, unable to save ourselves from participating in the false values of this world.

We receive that courage from the Lord who is coming, the one who forgives our sins and heals the wounds we have suffered from the sin all around us.

This is the God Jesus shows us, the shepherd whom the prophet sings of in today’s 1st reading:

Like a Shepherd he feeds his flock and gathers the lambs in his arms.
Holding them carefully close to his heart, leading them home