by Catherine Doherty.
Chapter forty of the book of the prophet Isaiah contains some of the most beautiful passages in scripture. And these prophecies are eternal. They were not just meant for the time of Jerusalem. They are meant for now!
So please, once more, let us risk looking in the mirror and seeing who we really are.
Regardless of what we see, let us realize that we are wonderful in the sight of God, that he loves us so much that he sent his only Son to redeem us. Advent is the season of meditating on his coming. It is a time for us to understand what we are truly worth.
First Isaiah tell us to be consoled. Then he tells us that our sins are forgiven. And then comes another verse saying, Prepare in the wilderness a way for the Lord (40:3).
We know that our hearts and minds are often a “wilderness” where we are trapped. We try to go here, there, and everywhere in this chaotic, uneven inwardness. And we seem to get nowhere.
Let every valley be filled in (40:4). How many valleys have we got? How many dark and strange places in our minds and souls in which we hide? All because we don’t want to face what we know we should: the Law of the Lord.
Let every mountain and hill be laid low (40:4). We have mountains, too. Not “the mountain of the Lord, but others—mountains of all kinds of pleasures, all kinds of desires. They have to be laid low.
Let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges, a valley (40:4). If we were in the Holy Land, we’d see the physical topography—the strange hills, mountains, ridges, and so forth—of that land. But in this passage, the prophet is describing us in symbolic terms. Yes, us!
We have a situation in our inner landscape that we have to face. We have to repent. That’s what it really means.
Repentance isn’t simply apologizing, then going to confession and being forgiven. Oh, no! Repentance is much more than that.
Repentance is a “turning around.” And it is an ongoing affair.
To know what we must do, and then to really do it. That is repentance.
To put it another way, repentance is the incarnation of the Gospel in our life. We acknowledge that we have sinned before the Lord. We acknowledge that we have trodden the wrong path. Then we must turn our back on all of that, and move in the opposite direction.
Otherwise in a little while we will be telling the same story all over again—to another priest, or to the same priest—asking to be forgiven again.
Repentance means change. In a sense, it becomes a bulldozer that we apply to our mind and soul to level the ridges, flatten down the mountains, and fill in the potholes and ravines, so as to make a path for the Lord to cross the desert of our hearts.
We need to pray to the Lord for this “bulldozer” so that the rockfall and debris can be pushed away.
God will do this for us, provided we stop the swirling dust of our mutterings, the constant use of the pronoun, “I,” our continual thinking that we are always right and someone else is wrong, and our non-listening to our own brothers and sisters or to our spouse and children.
The weight of listening, really listening to others, is heavy. That is why we need to pray for a spiritual bulldozer to make straight the ways of the Lord in our own hearts.
Then God himself will be able to walk these paths unencumbered. Then he can come into our hearts and do the listening there. Then he can listen to others through us, talk through us, understand through us, and help through us. Then he can console those who come to us.
If the paths of our hearts were made straight, he would come running. For he wants to be with us until the end of time, as he said in the Gospel.
It is time for us to pray, dearly beloved, so that we may be able to listen to the hunger of others. Usually, other people don’t want us to do too much for them. They simply want us to listen because listening means love and friendship. And there is a great hunger for these today.
Yes, to repent is to change. It is not just to acknowledge that we have done wrong. It is to turn our backs to the wrong, and start doing the right—incarnating the Gospel. Christianity in the world today hinges on our living the Gospel.
For the world today doesn’t believe that Christ’s teachings are of any value, because the majority of Christians do not incarnate them.
But some do. Take, for example, Reverend Martin Luther King. He “had a dream.” He incarnated that dream, and he was killed for doing so. He did the very thing that people expect a Christian to do: he incarnated his beliefs. Do we?
Make straight the path of the Lord, a highway for our God across the desert. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low. Let every cliff become a plain and the ridges a valley. Then the glory of our Lord will be revealed (Is 40:3-5).
This glory will be revealed in each one of us. How? All we need to do is just stop our personality clashes, our judging one another, our mistrust of one another, our anger against one another, our hostility against one another. All we need do is to begin to love one another as Christ loved us.
Then the pagans of today will say, “Well now, look at those Christians, will you? They’ve really got something. See how they love one another!”
To repent is one of the hardest things in the world; yet it is basic to all spiritual progress. It calls for a complete breakdown of our prideful self-assurance, a stripping away of the cloak of prestige that is woven from our petty successes, a breaching of the innermost citadel of our self-will.
From Donkey Bells, pp. 27-32, (1994), available from MH Publications.
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