Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Second Sunday of Advent
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
December 4, 2016
“In those days John the Baptist appeared preaching in the desert of Judea.”Matthew 3:1
Is it safe to say that people paid much more attention to what they wore in an earlier age? I recall growing up and hearing statements like, “You can always tell a gentleman by his shoes” or “You wear a solid white shirt after six.” It seems almost amusing to think back on these cautions and admonitions when you compare them to the outrageous apparel that sometimes you encounter today. However, I dare say that the population is more aware of fashion now than ever they were in the past. It is simply that styles have changed and become much more casual but remain just as indicative of something, whatever that might be.
I say all of this as a preface to the Gospel of today’s Advent Mass which introduces us to person of St. John the Baptist. The sacred writer is quite specific about what he wears. “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist” (Matthew 3:4). And St. Matthew does not stop there. He includes the content of St. John’s diet. “His food was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). Obviously these specifics mean something. They bring us back to Elijah the Prophet, as any devout Jew would have recognized.
In the Second Book of Kings, we read how Ahaziah, the King of Samaria, consults a pagan god after suffering an injury (II Kings 1:1-8). Elijah meets the king’s messengers on the road and interrupts their journey to rebuke the king, assuring his death because he is ignoring the true God. When the king’s emissaries return, Ahaziah asks them to describe the man who spoke this warning. They respond that Elijah was “[w]earing a hairy garment… with a leather girdle about his loins” (II Kings 1:8). The account does not have a happy ending, because the king dies due to his infidelity.
St. John the Baptist is not only the prophet sent to prepare the way for the Lord (Matthew 3:3), like Elijah, he also preaches repentance. The message of the Baptist has “bite,” we might say. He has a warning, as did Elijah for Ahaziah. The One who follows him “will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12). There is no good that comes from bad. They are incompatible. A change of life is necessary. Presumption will not be tolerated (Matthew 3:9). Repentance is necessary.
I recall a quotation from the writings of St. Faustina. She wrote that the path to God’s mercy enters through the door of God’s justice. God wants a contrite heart. Only the heart that admits its error—something which Ahaziah was unwilling to do—can open the path of mercy. A heart that regrets its sins, resolves to amend, and is filled with deep sorrow for offending God—this is the heart of the repentant that is well on its way to God’s love.
St. John the Baptist’s clothing has more to say to us than just invoking a bygone age. The clothing reminds us of a message spoken by the prophets that is just as valid for us in Advent as it was for a king who ignored the one God. “Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance” (Matthew 3:8).