St John the Baptist was a straight shooter. Demanding of himself and of others. Not a man of excuses, but rather a man of fortitude. And what does he tell us?
“Make a straight way for the Lord.”
This message never grows old. Our lives are not sufficiently identified with Christ. Never forget Mahatma Gandhi’s reproach. As a young lawyer in Africa, he was intrigued by Christianity, but scandalised by the racism of the Christians he met.
Later in life, he declared:
“I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
“Make a straight way for the Lord,” the Baptist repeats. He’s speaking to you and me. For Christ to fill our hearts this Christmas, we must be emptied of ourselves, and of all personal problems.
“He must increase,” St John also said; “I must decrease.”
(An aside: I always repeat this aspiration when someone overtakes me on the highway. There’s something about being overtaken that really bugs me. I hate it!! So as soon as a tailgating driver moves to overtake me, and I feel that emotional hook taking hold, I echo St John the Baptist: “Christ must increase; I must decrease.”)
John the Baptist invites us to make Christ our very life. If we allow the Lord to be everything, there’s no room for personal drama. There’s no time for imagined confrontations which steal our peace.
Almost always, personal problems derive from egotism. We think about ourselves too much. We take ourselves too seriously.
An important disclaimer: this is not true if you are recovering from trauma. Someone who is grieving loss, or absorbing betrayal, is wounded. The cure is not thinking less about oneself, but on the contrary: ministering self-care.
But for the rest of us, who aren’t in trauma, personal problems are usually a sign that we’re self-centered. The cure: devote time to others. It will dissolve our sorrows. We must decrease; Christ must increase.
This is the secret of the saints’ happiness. They empty themselves of ego, which makes room for Christ. Nothing upsets them. The path before them is not only straight and simple, but also serene and joyful.
This is the joy we pray for today. “Be happy at all times,” St Paul tells us in today’s Second Reading. “Rejoice in the Lord always,” he says in the Entrance antiphon. “Again I say, rejoice.”
How do we do that? By forgetting ourselves. By focusing on others. We make life pleasant for those around us, not as long-faced martyrs, but cheerfully, generously, without attracting attention.
He must increase; I must decrease. Today we ask God to make straight his way in us, so that he alone may fill our heart’s desire.