I remember as a child helping prepare our home for my grandfather to come and live with us for a while. There was much to do. A bedroom needed to be created on the main floor to make sure steps were not an obstacle for him. Closets and cupboards were cleared so Grandpa would have room for his clothes and books and pictures. The most comfortable chair was placed near the living room window, giving him a clear view of the activity of the neighborhood. We did all we could to help him feel at home — and did so with joy because we were excited about his arrival.
The familiar Advent cry of John the Baptist to “prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths,” invites us to look at our lives and hearts to see what we need to do to make room for others. Perhaps we need to remove the obstacles of prejudice or fear or preconceived notions. We might be called to clear out any lingering indifference or selfishness. We may be asked to be generous in our forgiveness and mercy.
We are also challenged to prepare the way beyond our own lives and to do what we can to make this world the place God intended it to be. Many challenges face us in our world today: new forms of hatred and violence, the pull of consumerism, countless refugees and migrants desiring a better life for their families, the homeless, the hungry, those who are different or lack acceptance in society. There is much to be done. It can feel overwhelming. We might be tempted to think there is nothing we as individuals can do.
That’s why Pope Francis’ call to a Year of Mercy is indeed a timely one. There is much each one of us can and must do. Francis defines mercy, in part, as “the supreme act by which God comes to meet us” and as “the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life.” Given these definitions, we are challenged to recognize the gift we have been given in our incarnate God. We have the presence of God dwelling within us and around us. The call is to open ourselves to the power of God’s presence poured out in love and mercy and forgiveness. We then extend those gifts to others, aware that as we look into the eyes of our brothers and sisters, we recognize in them the presence of God as well.
I was struck this summer by a comment made by one of the migrant workers in Gillett. As our parishes reached out to them through meals and conversations, some of us also attempted a few Spanish words and phrases we had learned. The patience of our Hispanic brothers and sisters was evident. After a few laughs and gentle corrections, one of the gentlemen said, “Even if you cannot speak the language well, we can tell your heart is in the right place.”
As we prepare the way of the Lord and prepare for the celebration of the Year of Mercy, let us put our hearts in the right place. Let us do all we can to level any mountains or fill in any valleys which prevent us from making room for Christ and others. And let us do so with joy at their arrival. Indeed, may our God and all our brothers and sisters feel at home with us.
Sr. Marla, a member of A New Genesis religious community, is pastoral leader at St. John Parish, Gillett, St. Michael Parish, Suring, and Chute Pond Station, Chute Pond.