Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2022

     My reflections today are focused on the way we live and the importance of changing for the better. This change needs to take place now because, otherwise, we may take the risk of being forced to go through that process in circumstances that may be more painful once we leave this world. What I just said is based on the words of Saint John the Baptist and on the baptisms he gave to the people of Israel.

     Five years ago I went with a group of people to the Holy Land. The visit to the Jordan river was one of the most anticipated activities of the group. We needed to get into the water and the priest leading the tour would push our heads down to immerse us totally into the waters. I can still picture the people holding their noses before the dip and screaming with elation.   

     The message of John the Baptist in today’s gospel is simple: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. The proximity of the coming of the kingdom of heaven is what makes his invitation to change so urgent. Taking a dip in the waters of the Jordan was what helped the people make the transition from a life of vice to a life of virtue. The gesture of being immersed in the waters is very telling. You need to stop breathing as if you were dead for a short period of time while you are inside the waters. Once you get out of the water, you may breathe again as if you were born again.

     Now, Saint John the Baptist first hears people’s confession of sin. That fact helped him know the true conversion the people were having. John Baptist knows very well that some people are there not with the best intentions but as simple actors. Going back to my visit to the Holy Land. The group of about fifty people were on a spiritual pilgrimage. However, there were some who were there just as tourists. Any visit to a holy place there or any devotional such as the immersion in the Jordan River should have served any pilgrim to grow in his/her spiritual life.

     The words that John the Baptist addresses to the Pharisees and Sadducees are strong. He needs to warn them in such a serious way because what is at play is nothing less than their eternal salvation. The Pharisees and Sadducees needed to change their hearts in a very drastic way. They lived a life of pride and entitlement which was not easy for them to leave behind. Their positions in society were very comfortable that doing the opposite meant giving up too much. Repentance was very difficult for these two groups of people. Saint John’s warning is also addressed to us today.

     The last things is the way the Church makes reference to the realities of hell, purgatory and heaven. Today’s gospel may help us reflect on purgatory. Again, a change in the way we conduct our lives is needed now because, otherwise, we may take the risk of being forced to go through that process in circumstances that may be more painful once we leave this world. In the Lord’s Prayer we implore that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In heaven God’s will is perfectly done. If we have not learned to do God’s will in our time on earth, we may have to go through a painful process of surrendering our own will and way of thinking.

     Theologians tell us that this process will be as difficult and painful as reversing a brainwash that is not of God’s will. I imagine in purgatory a crucial moment in which the prideful soul will, using the image of the baptism by immersion, take his or her last breath and be immersed in the fire of the Holy Spirit and come up breathing as a new creature that only does the will of God.

Let us humbly ask the Lord to grant us his grace to work seriously in our conversion while we still have time in this world.