Second Sunday of Advent

Lectionary: 4

At that time Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan
were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.

I am old enough to remember the long lines in the Catholic churches during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. It seemed half the town, like the ancient Judeans, wanted to acknowledge their sins. Just standing in line was acknowledgement enough although it seemed no big deal at the time. Only a fool would not admit he sinned occasionally.
In those days we practiced silence in the church; talking was forbidden so we neither shared our confessions with one another nor speculated about someone else’s confession. The priests said nothing about what they heard but they assured us no one’s sin is very interesting. “There was only one original sin; all the rest are cheap imitations.”
This “confession of sins” is a gift of the Jewish tradition to our Catholic heritage. Impressed by the overwhelming love of God who rescues his people from distress time after time, we can only admit we have failed – again – to comply with God’s command, “You shall be holy as I am holy!”
But silently standing in line on a Saturday afternoon was a holy thing to do, a step back in the right direction.
If we have lost anything since those halcyon days it is not our sense of sin but our sense of grace. It disappeared under a tsunami of entitlement, which requires nothing of us, neither gratitude nor obedience.
I first noticed the plague of entitlement when I visited city and parish jails in Louisiana. The inmates told me how they had violated parole by enjoying simple, innocent pleasures. One fellow wanted to visit his children. Big mistake. 

Another fellow was arrested for shooting at tin cans with a .22 pistol. He was way out in the country, far off the highway, but someone ratted on him. 

These men had lived under the illusion of entitlement, permitted and encouraged to stretch the envelope of freedom. But now felons, they would have to watch every step and think through every opportunity. The least infraction lands them back in the clink. Their new restrictions are as rigorous as their freedom was reckless. 
Unlike entitlements, grace requires prayer and contemplation. Like sickness and death, it is neither deserved nor earned; it is given. But, like your cellphone, wallet or the "right" to bear arms, it's easy to misplace, not noticing its absence until you have a sudden, desperate need of grace. 

Advent invites us to repent of our sins and thank God for our blessings, especially the "freedom of religion." If we fail to use it, we will certainly lose it. 

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

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