The Most Reverend Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Second Sunday of Advent
December 6, 2009
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception

“Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery; put on the splendor of glory from God forever.”  Baruch 5:1

One of the most marvelous experiences I had as a pastor was meeting with those who were being instructed to receive baptism in the Catholic Church.  They had never been baptized before.  They really belonged to no church or religion.  They were mostly young people, students in school.  They were filled with such enthusiasm, such idealism, and such a burning desire to be baptized. 

When someone enters the Church or embraces Christianity, I ask what attracts them to Christ and the faith.  The answers are not only heartwarming but also an insight into my own faith.  One might answer that he wanted to know the truth, and he felt he had found it.  Another might feel drawn to Christ in communion with Him, particularly the Eucharist.  After all, who invites you to dinner only to serve you the menu?  Still another might say that she wanted to belong to Christ.  She wanted to be part of the Body.  All would agree that faith was a challenge, but they were willing to accept it and found it an answer to the complacency and emptiness of the times in which we live. 

I am always grateful for their insights from these souls that yearn for faith.  What they say is the answer to the prayer of St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians.  “This is my prayer:  that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10).  That prayer appears in the second reading of today’s Mass and is an Advent prayer of anticipation.  The men and women yearning for baptism express a burning desire for Christ in His Body.  They have heard a call.  God has touched their hearts.  They are experiencing a conversion that, we pray, will be with them for the rest of their lives. 

At the time of Christ, people heard this call from St. John the Baptist.  He preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3).  His was not an easy road.  He did not preach ease and comfort, health and wealth.  He laid the hard facts before those who would listen and whose hearts would be touched.  To prepare for the coming Messiah, things could not remain the same.  It could not be “business as usual.”  Something had to change, and that change had to begin with each one personally.  Thus St. John the Baptist’s voice is “one crying out in the desert” (Luke 3:4).  It is a voice crying out in the desert because it is different from the other voices.  That voice presents a challenge, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Luke 3:4).  But a voice in the desert can also be ignored. 
The message of St. John is so different from the one we hear today.  The world certainly does not teach it.  Its materialism smothers us into insouciance.  Society demands nothing more of us than a conformity to something that approximates truth.  Therefore, we turn to fads, to convenience and correctness.  The world can indeed be a desert.

I return to the remarkable people seeking baptism.  For them the faith is youthful, new, enriching, and, above all, challenging.  It gives them more than comfort.  It gives them strength to meet difficulties with which the world would soon confront them.

They are like the shepherds keeping their flocks in the fields who heard the angels’ message for the first time:  “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).  Having heard that, the shepherds did not walk to Bethlehem.  They ran (Luke 2:16).  People who hear good news do not walk.  They run.  Let us hasten to Christmas.  Let us hasten to Christ.