I. The “S” Curve
A. Let me tell you about a stretch of interstate highway – I-75 that runs through the hills of Northern Kentucky, across the Ohio River into Cincinnati. It is near the minor seminary I attended, The Seminary of St. Pius X, in Erlanger, Ky. The hills of Northern Kentucky presented a great challenge to the designers of I-75. Their initial solution was a steeply banked S-curve.
B. Truth to tell, I liked the S-curve and on more than few occasions careened down the S-curve in the huge station wagon, a Ford Country Squire, that was owned (and insured) by the seminary. But most people did not love the S-curve. Tractor trailers that failed to downshift often turned over with destructive results. Even on the best of days, the S-curve was a place where traffic was delayed in both directions.
II. Prepare the Way for the Lord
A. In this evening’s Gospel, we meet John the Baptist proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin – and crying out to any who would listen in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Prepare the way of the Lord // make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
B. It is clear that S-curves are found not only on the roads we build but also in our hearts. Jeremiah has it right when he says of the human heart: “More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy, who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9).
C. Advent is a joyful season when we prepare to welcome the Lord in the celebration of Christmas and at his second coming, at the end of time. But the joy of Advent and Christmas will be denied us if the inroads of our hearts are full of S-curves – that is to say, if our hearts remain twisted by sin.
We won’t experience true Christmas joy so long as our hearts remain rocky and hilly… not only because of our sins but also because of our preoccupations with the cares and anxieties of life.
III. Straightening the “S” Curves
A. St. John the Baptist tells us what we must do to share in the Lord’s joy: “Make straight the way of the Lord!” And to find out how to do this, let us return the infamous S-curve. You will be happy to know sometime in the 1990’s, this dangerous stretch on I-75 was reengineered in such a way that the S-curve was straightened out and eliminated.
B. And this gives us the key to understanding what our Advent project must be. This project has 5 steps:
Step #1: to re-design and re-built that dangerous stretch of I-75, there had to be the will, the resolve, to do so.
The general public and government officials had to say “enough already!” So it is with us.
If we want to eliminate the S-curves in our hearts, then we must have the will to do so.
And that means accepting the grace of God which gives us the resolve to make necessary changes that will straighten out the inroad of our hearts.
Step #2: to eliminate the S-curve from I-75, the road had to be re-engineered. The engineers could not simply follow their whims but had to study the lay of the land and, in the light of sound principles of road engineering, come up with a new design.
So with us.
To make straight the way of the Lord, to eliminate the S-curves in our lives, we cannot simply follow our own desires.
We cannot re-engineer ourselves by denying our sins or by re-inventing the teaching of the Lord as it comes to us through the Church. Rather we must be attentive to the lay of the land in our own hearts and the teaching of Jesus conveyed through his Church.
This is what John the Baptist is pointing to!
Step #3: before re-building that dangerous stretch of interstate, a model was constructed and carefully studied. It was necessary to visualize how and where the road would run.
So with us.
To make our hearts a wide and direct highway for the Lord, we need to have a model. In fact, we are blessed to have two models:
first is the humanity of Christ the Son of God who reveals us to ourselves – who shows us our true dignity and our destiny to share God’s life and love; and second is the sinless heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary who lived the Gospel and shared in Jesus saving work more than anyone else. These are more than virtual models – they are the real thing!
And just to make sure that we truly have sufficient models for discipleship, there are thousands of saints who give us endless examples of what it means to welcome and follow Christ wholeheartedly.
Step #4: the old road had to be broken up and the chunks of concrete and asphalt hauled away. The hills had to be leveled and the valleys filled in. Demolition is hard work but it must be done before a new road can be built. It requires the use of heavy equipment.
So with us.
In many places the Scripture speaks of the hardness of the human heart. Our hardened hearts must be broken – for as Psalm 51 tells us: ‘a broken, contrite heart, O God, you do not spurn!’
Contrition is akin to having a broken heart on account of our sins. It means digging up our old grudges, bad habits and vices, complicated motivations… indeed all the obstacles in our hearts that impede the Lord’s presence in us. And the heavy duty equipment that enables us to accomplish this demolition phase includes a daily examination of conscience, frequent and fruitful use of the Sacrament of Penance, mortification in our daily lives and service to the poor and needy. Indeed, in the Holy Year of Mercy that is about to begin, Pope Francis has marshalled the Church’s heavy duty equipment for the demolition of sin and the effects of sin in our hearts.
Step #5: in place of the old, winding, and dangerous stretch of I-75, a new section of road was constructed, according to design.
Now tractor trailers & passenger cars can travel that stretch in relative ease & safety. So too with us; it is not enough to demolish old vices and undo bad intent & motives; a new road must be constructed in our hearts that is direct, wide, and smooth. The winding ways of sin must be replaced the royal road of truth and charity so that the Lord may enter our hearts at Christmas and for all time. What paves the way for the Lord to come into our hearts more deeply? Is it not the Sacrament of Charity, the Eucharist?
As we share in Jesus Sacrifice of Love and receive his true Body and Blood, our hearts are transformed day by day, week by week, into the image of his love. If we truly receive the Lord worthily and attentive in Holy Communion, we will grow in our capacity to love as we have been loved and to forgive as we have been forgiven.
That is why it is so wonderful that this Parish is celebrating 40 hours in these days leading up to the Jubilee Year of Mercy: for as we spend time adoring the Blessed Sacrament, we grow in love of Jesus who gives himself to us endlessly and we in turn are prompted to give of ourselves to those around us and especially to those who are poor, sick, and vulnerable…and one more thing… The inroads of our hearts must be shored up by the development of the moral virtues. The virtues not only enable us to withstand the traffic of daily life, they also prompt us to make constant upgrades in the inroads of our hearts – so that we may be counted among those who have set their hearts on what is above rather than what is below.
Dear friends, as Advent passes by so quickly; we must thank the Lord for his goodness and then allow his grace to work in us so that our hearts will a royal highway for the Lord, at Christmas and throughout our lives.
May God bless us and keep us always in His love!