Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
December 7, 2014
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
Second Sunday of Advent
“One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.” Mark 1:7
Every year a dear friend of mine will ask, “Tell me what you want for Christmas.” Many of you, no doubt, get the same request from relatives and friends. The statement forces us to ask ourselves another question, “What do I need for Christmas?” And that is a very good Advent question.
If we look at the Sacred Scriptures and take them seriously, then we already have all we need. He is Jesus Christ. Our second reading from today’s Mass comes from the Second Letter of St. Peter. That letter begins with these words, “His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power” (II Peter 1:3). We have already “everything that makes for life.” However, we behave very often as though we are not convinced of that truth. We fret, complain, and worry over every imaginable detail of taste, opinion, teaching, style and preference. As a consequence, we look for satisfaction in places that are senseless and futile. God must find this very tedious.
Consider for a moment what happens in the Gospel. “John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins” (Mark 1:4-5). How extraordinary! “People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem” were going out to meet John! Judging from that scene, I would say what John the Baptist was telling them exactly what they needed to hear. And what was so compelling about John’s message? He called them to “repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” They were ready to answer the question, “What do I need?” They wanted to be saved.
You see Advent asks us that question. “What do I need?” The answer is not found in the material things that we busy ourselves with. It is found in Jesus Christ, because God has given His only Son to us as His gift, and He is “everything that makes for life.”
St. John of the Cross was one of the Church’s greatest mystical and spiritual masters. In The Ascent of Mount Carmel (2, 22, 3-5), he writes the following:
In giving us his Son, his only Word (for he possesses no
other), he spoke everything to us at once in this sole
Word—and he has no more to say… because what he
spoke before in the prophets in parts, he has now spoken
all at once by giving us the All Who is His Son.
We will complain, why doesn’t God give me what I want? He already has. He has given us what we need. We say, why doesn’t God do something about all these problems? He has. He has given us the way, the truth, and the life. We fret and moan because we fashion God on our own terms, but He has already given us everything we need. So, what do we need for Christmas?
We need what those people in the Gospel knew they needed. We need to go out into the desert and repent. We need to live our baptism more fully, to partake more fully of the richness of what God has given us in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments. We need sorrow for our sins beginning with the humility to admit we have sinned. We need the courage to be more generous with others and to recognize the gifts we already have. We need to have more gratitude and to be less self-referential, to quote Pope Francis. In short, we need a savior, and if we don’t realize that, then something is truly missing in, what some like to call these days, their “faith lives,” a terminology that is grossly misleading. People of faith do not compartmentalize what they do at Church from what they do at home or at work. They know what they really need at all times and in all places.
There is a prayer which is sometimes referred to as the “bookmark prayer.” The reason is after her death someone found it in a book belonging to St. Theresa of Avila. The final words of that prayer are a good commentary on why we have Advent:
He who has God
Finds he lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
Bishop Glen John Provost