God Smoothes the Rough Ways

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From our first reading at Sunday Mass:

God has commanded that every lofty mountain shall be made low, and that the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground. [Spanish]

From the gospel reading:

Every valley shall be filled; every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth.

Why? Why all this leveling and straightening of the earth? So “that Israel may advance secure, for God is leading Israel by the light of His glory.” (Baruch 5:9)

God leads a people. Us. The people united in His Christ. St. Paul wrote to his beloved Philippians:  “I pray for all of you with joy in my heart, because of your partnership for the gospel.”

We are partners. For the gospel. With a pilgrimage to make. To Mt. Zion, to the Temple in heaven. To glorify God there, together.

For the ancient Israelites on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the terrain posed great challenges. Anyone ever visited the Dead Sea? St. John the Baptist lived nearby. He ate locusts, because that’s pretty much all there is to eat there.

Anyone ever heard the parable of the Good Samaritan? The traveler fell into the hands of brutal robbers while he made his way on the Jericho road. A rocky land of dangerous mountain passes—like the territory on Tattooine where the Sand People live, where old Ben Kenobi had his hermitage. (That’s Star Wars, if you didn’t know.)

Vatican II stallsIn other words: Getting to Jerusalem posed problems. Tough terrain. Physical struggles and dangers. But the prophets promised: Fear not. God Himself will level it all out. So that Israel can proceed together, singing, towards God’s glorious Temple.

We can ask ourselves: Why frequent the parish church on Sundays? Hasn’t the Catholic Church suffered the definitive disgrace this past year? With attorneys general raiding bishops’ offices? With confusion reigning among the successors of the apostles?

The first reading at Sunday Mass includes a reference to a ‘miter.’ Everyone know what that word means? The distinctive headdress of the bishop. It represents the Holy Spirit pouring into Moses’ head. The miter symbolizes divine wisdom. But, at this point in the Church’s history, it’s not easy to preach on the divine wisdom symbolized by the bishop’s miter.

Yet Sunday-morning Mass means: Israel, united.

Are we out-of-step with reality? After all, “Many of our contemporaries never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings, nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion.”

That’s actually a direct quote from Vatican II. Many of our contemporaries never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings, nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion. (Gaudium et Spes 19)

Why do we trouble ourselves about religion? And why do we do it in the Catholic Church?

Maybe we can say that we trouble ourselves with seeking God because: “each of us remains to him- or herself an unsolved puzzle.” Because: “We face the riddles of life and death, of guilt and grief.” (GS 21)

Again, a direct quote from Vatican II. And the fathers of that Church Council, held fifty years ago, went on to affirm: “Only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light. Christ reveals the Father and His love, and so fully reveals man to himself and makes man’s supreme calling clear.” (GS 22)

In spite of this entire mess that we ourselves are, the prophets, amazingly, propose:  We can have genuinely coherent lives, instead of a tumult of zigs and zags. We can march together in a straight line towards heaven.  We can live according to the fundamental truth of who we are; we can greet every situation with calm self-assurance, ready to act as a saint would act.

How?  By raising questions about God.  By troubling ourselves to know Him.

The Lord has provided us with the means to know Him. And to know what His commandments are. He does smooth the way for His pilgrim people to reach Jerusalem. We go together, in partnership for the Gospel of Christ.

And the communion that we enjoy with each other has a depth that reaches back through time, and also towards the promised future of eternal life. We may have entered a very difficult period of Church history. But our communion with God and with each other does not rest on the current political situation of the Church’s hierarchy.

Our communion rests on stronger foundations than that. It rests on the basics. On the Person of Jesus Christ Himself. On His doctrine, contained in the New Testament; on His commandments. On the prayer that He taught us to say. Right now we have the bishops and the pope that we have, and may God help them to do their duty well. But our communion with God flows from something deeper. It flows from the mysteries of the life of Jesus.

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