Beyond the walls of this church, one might think that Christmas has already arrived. The stores and even our homes are decorated. We have struggled to hang the lights, adorn our trees. Parties are being celebrated at the office. Santa appears in various places for a photo with excited children who are anxious to deliver their Christmas gift list. And then we come to Mass only to encounter St. John the Baptist and hear his impatient and stern preaching on repentance. Not exactly full of Christmas cheer is he? He is the precursor of the Lord, the prophet who bridges the Old and New Testaments.
In his dirty camel’s hair coat, reeking of locust and honey, he is not one we easily embrace. But our Lord said that there is no man born of woman greater than John the Baptist. So it is important that we heed his somber message!
Repent! Crooked ways must be made straight. Bad habits need correction. Conversion must continue. Repentance means breaking with the past to make room for a future where God’s will is honored and obeyed. This involves change and change is not easy. Change must go deeper than appearances. It must touch our heart. It involves being honest with ourselves.
We are attached to attitudes and actions that are unworthy of us as Christians and hurtful of others. Most of the time we could repeat the words of St. Augustine who said in effect, “Change me, Lord, but not yet.” We have to put aside selfish and defensive behavior.
How might we effect this change or transformation? One way is to make each evening an examination of conscience. This is taking the time to review the day just completed—a day that will never return to us and to ask ourselves in all honesty: In what way have I sinned? In what way can I improve tomorrow? This honesty and openness lays the groundwork for change and our response to the Gospel’s command to repentance. An elderly Abbess wrote this interesting prayer in her desire to change. I thought it might be helpful today:
You know better than me that I am growing older and will soon be old. Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity. Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples' affairs. With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it. But you know, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.
Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point. Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains—they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.
I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn't agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.
Keep me reasonably gentle. . . Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy. Let me discover merits where I had not expected them and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so. Amen.
Lord, give us all the grace to change so that our hearts may be a worthy place in which for you to dwell!