John the Baptist is described as the one who “prepares a way for the Lord” and “makes his paths straight.” His example of humility and poverty (he ate the poorest of food, dressed in the poorest of clothes, and lived in the wilderness) gave weight to his words when he told people to repent of their arrogance and greed. The baptism he administered symbolized the people’s desire to turn away from selfishness and be faithful to God’s will, a desire that he could stir up because he was already living that kind of fidelity.
This same interior conversion is an ongoing thing for all Christians, as we strive to become more like Christ each day. The Church emphasizes this part of Christian spirituality during its two penitential seasons, Advent and Lent. Advent, St John the Baptist’s most visible liturgical season, is the beginning of the liturgical year, a time to examine our hearts and to remove from them all selfishness, impatience, and laziness, so that they can become worthy dwelling places – wide, smooth, and well-kept roads – for the King who is on his way. And not only should we prepare our own hearts, but also, like John, the sincerity of our repentance should embolden us to invite and assist others to make room for Christ in their lives. If John had not announced Christ’s coming with his words and example, many of his peers would have been unprepared for God’s action in their lives; if we keep Christ’s message, the Good News of Christmas and Easter, to ourselves, many of our peers will be deprived of the grace of God, which they need so badly.
Fr. John Bartunek, LC is the author and Creative Director at RCSpirituality.org, an online resource providing faith formation and online retreats.