John the Baptist’s Fresh Air

What was it like, living in ancient Palestine?

The king was not a real Jew. The high priests had no faith. The Pharisees did not practice what they preached. The Romans ruled as careerist bureaucrats. You couldn’t pray in the Temple because the animal-traders made too much noise. You couldn’t save for the future because the taxmen gouged you. You couldn’t travel because the highways were crawling with bandits.

Dishonesty grew like a sickening weed everywhere, choking the life out of religion and the common life, leaving the nation on the brink of violent despair.

Then people began to hear about a man who lived down in the desert wilderness by the mouth of the Jordan River. He lived on a hillside that looked out on the brilliant sunrise from the quiet, holy east.

This man had no angle. He owed allegiance to no party. He had no designs on any advancement in this world. His life consisted solely in patiently waiting for all the prophecies of old to come true.

Is it any wonder that they came by the hundreds? Down the mountain from Jerusalem and Judea, down the river from Samaria, Galilee, Syria. Is it any wonder that people suffocating in a society canopied with craven selfishness came for a breath of John the Baptist’s fresh air?

He opened up the sky for them. He unlocked the hidden mystery of the sacred page. He made the faith of Abraham live. The work of God had not been exhausted by the many centuries of strife. No: it had all been a matter of careful divine preparation.

Make straight the paths of the Providence of God. Be cleansed for refreshment and renewal. A great day of truth, of justice, of peace and light—the day of Christ—is coming.

Now, wouldn’t the best Christmas present we could give ourselves be to join that line of pilgrims wending their way toward the Jordan River? To come out of the fog of a world grown stale and feel the desert sun on our faces? To hear the holy man speak humble words of true faith, put the past behind us, and start fresh?

Guess what. The Jordan River runs right through the back of any parish church. It runs right through the confessional.

Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire. It begins with water. For many of us, it began when we were babes in arms, baptized by Father O’Something, on a Saturday morning at St. Something-or-other parish, down the street from the bakery or the ball field.

But that was just the beginning of the straightening of the path. Life has its twists and turns. We need a way back to the purity of the font. And the Lord has given us a way. It’s called going to confession.

…But, Father, I don’t remember how to go! But, Father, I thought the Church stopped emphasizing that. Father, I thought it was all about communal penance now. Father, I’m a good person! Father, I…

There are two kinds of parishes in this world. Parishes where the priest sits regularly to hear confessions, and the people go. And parishes where people don’t go, and Father doesn’t sit.

Of these two kinds of parishes, which are the ones where people love each other more? Which are the ones where the people pray together with more humble sincerity and purer hearts? Which are the ones that have families that know how to get along better? Which kind of parish grows more, and welcomes more people, and keeps plugging along through good times and bad?

To go to confession expresses the deepest hope in God. He forgives. He forgives all the things I start to feel bad about when I go for a long walk by myself. He forgives everything I did when I was impatient and insecure. He forgives me for being lazy and self-indulgent while the poor suffer. He forgives every last little thing that makes me ashamed.

By going to confession, I trust. I trust God. I trust that the priest will not think less of me. And of course he will never tell anyone anything I say, because he could go to hell for that. By going to confession, I trust that God has a plan for my soul to be more peaceful, and my part in that plan is simply to show up and go to confession and not make excuses.

Does it matter if I kneel behind the screen or go face-to-face? No. Does it matter if I can’t remember the Act of Contrition? No. How do I know what to say? Spending ten minutes going over the Ten Commandments usually helps. Here is a quick list of sins to get the ball rolling:

unbelief, presumption, lukewarmness in prayer, pride, laziness, ingratitude, superstition, cursing, missing Mass without a serious reason, gluttony, disrespect, abortion, drug abuse, excessive drinking, reckless driving, fornication, impurity, artificial contraception, marriage outside the Church, stealing, lying, gossip, GOSSIP, injustice, boasting, slandering, coveting, greed, immodesty, envy, lust

[Click HERE for a comprehensive Examen.]

We are sinners. God forgives. Let’s give ourselves the best Christmas present possible.

One thought on “John the Baptist’s Fresh Air

  1. Father Mark,

    I’ll stick to John The Baptist: no matter who the messenger is, the mode is always the same, absolute devotion to the will of God.

    Compared to that, I know I’m falling short; and I suspect that many would feel the same way about themselves.

    Thank God for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, once for all, and for the confession, which helps us in our moral inventory, and offers the hope of forgiveness and redemption.



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