A young man’s marriage was headed for divorce, so he turned to his pastor for some counseling and advice.
The first time they met, all the young man could do was complain about his wife. She was never home. When she was home, all she did was talk on the phone. Because of her commute, she had to leave early in the morning so he was left packing the children’s lunches and bringing them to school. None of his needs were being met.
The pastor listened patiently to the young man’s laundry list of grievances. When he was finished, the pastor opened his desk drawer and took out an index card. Handing it to the young man, he said, “The next time we meet, I want you to write ten good qualities your wife has on this index card and read them to me.”
The young man joked that it would not be easy, but he agreed to do it.
All that week, the young man made the effort to find something good about his wife to write on the card. He began to notice the care she took in cleaning the house. When something was broken, she always took the initiative in fixing it without asking his help. Despite the issues they were dealing with as a couple, she was genuinely happy to see him when she got home. Because he was so focused on the negative, he had been oblivious to all that was good in his marriage.
The young man learned something else through the exercise. He learned how selfish he was. He was so focused on himself and his needs that he did not notice how hard his wife was working to keep their marriage together. He was so wrapped up in himself that he never noticed how his wife would try to talk to him but he ignored her so that he could watch TV.
It became very clear to him that the problem with their marriage was not her but him. If his marriage was going to survive, he was the one who would have to change.
We can probably all relate to the young man in the story. There have been times in our lives when we blamed everyone else for our difficulties and struggles. We were so focused on our own needs that we ignored the love and concern of those around us. In the end we learned that they were not the problem, we were. We discovered that the only way the negative circumstances in our lives would change would be if we changed.
Today’s gospel reading introduces one of the major figures of the Advent season, John the Baptist. As Saint Luke tells us, John is sent by God to prepare the way for Jesus. Why does God need someone to prepare the way for Jesus? Why couldn’t God just sent His Son without preparing the people first? Because He was about to do something radically new. It would be an act of salvation which Israel and the world had never seen before. To be aware of this gift and be able to accept it, the people would have to change their attitudes and behaviour. Like the young man whose marriage was close to breaking up, they would have to take their focus off themselves and turn it toward God. They would need to experience repentance. They would need to change.
As we read the Bible, we can sometimes wonder how so many people rejected Jesus despite the beauty of His teaching and all the miracles He performed. For many people, however, Jesus did not fit the description of what a Messiah or holy man should be. For example, the Pharisees did not believe He could be a prophet because He ate and drank with public sinners. The Zealots, like Judas Iscariot, did not believe He could be the Messiah because He did not work to overthrow the Roman occupation. Many others could not embrace His teachings on forgiveness and compassion for the poor. However, the problem was not with Jesus. The problem was with so many people who refused to change and so could not embrace the gift of salvation being offered them.
If we are going to experience all the blessings of this Advent Season - indeed, all the blessings of this life - we will need to change. We will need to change our outlook, our attitudes and our behaviour. There is much that is good all around us that we are oblivious to because of our selfishness. God is calling us to heed the words of John the Baptist to change our lives so that we can prepare a way for His Son.
A good place to start is every evening making a good examination of conscience. To make sure that our reflection is fruitful, we should try to look for one either online at a Catholic website or in a book. That will challenge us to see where in our hearts and minds the compassion of Christ is lacking. It will help us to understand exactly what inclinations and actions we will need to correct so that we can reflect the love of Jesus. Then going to confession to unburden our conscience and experience the healing power of this beautiful sacrament will give us even more strength and insight.
As Saint Paul tells us in the second reading, God has begun a good work in us and by His grace He will see it through. He wants us to take off our robes of mourning and misery to don the cloak of glory and joy from the Lord. It is all there for us if we will only heed John the Baptist’s call to repentance and conversion. It is within our grasp if we only have the courage to take a good hard look at ourselves and change.