Prepare the way of the Lord. In many ways, this verse from the Gospel could be the entire theme of Advent. We are preparing for the Lord’s coming. If there are any obstacles in His way, Advent is about removing them. Prepare the way of the Lord.
There are many beautiful images from Scripture that help us visualize the importance of being ready for the coming of Christ, of preparing His way. Perhaps the most popular one would be the Holy Family not finding any room in the inn at Bethlehem. If our hearts are too full with sin and vice, with worldly attachments and concerns, then there is an obstacle to the Lord’s coming. He may pass us by and make His home elsewhere.
Another image, though, comes from the Gospel, and I think it is very appropriate to consider right now, since students are in the midst of Christmas break from school. We hear in the Gospel, “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low.” This image concerns traveling. When it comes to traveling, mountains are too high, and valleys are too low. If we want an easy path our destination, the level path is the goal. If we want to prepare a path for Jesus to come into our lives, we need to fill the valleys and lower the mountains in our soul. To say it in a less poetic way, we need to be virtuous.
Virtues are the level path. Let’s take one virtue as an example. The virtue of temperance. We need to eat in order to live, and eating is pleasurable. Temperance is the virtue helps us pursue this pleasure in the right way, the level way. If we eat too much, we fall into the sin of gluttony. That would be like a mountain that needs to be made low. If we eat too little, we also fall into sin. That would be like a valley that needs to be filled. Temperance helps us to eat the right amount. It is the level path. The person who has temperance, then, has prepared the way of the Lord. He has taken away the obstacles of high mountains and low valleys. She is ready for His coming.
I like this image of filling valleys and making mountains low because growing in virtue takes real work. It doesn’t happen overnight. The way that we grow in virtue is simply through practice. The musician has to practice her scales in order to play well. The athlete must practice his fundamentals in order to play well. Taylor Swift wasn’t born knowing how to play the guitar. Lebron James wasn’t born knowing how to shoot a free throw. They practiced their art. We too have to practice the virtues, the art of living well.
We have to practice the virtues because, unfortunately, we weren’t born knowing how to live well. Recently, we celebrated the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. She was conceived without original sin, but we were not. We inherited original sin from Adam and Eve, and as a result, we tend to make valleys and mountains in our soul. We tend to sin. Even when we know that we have had enough to eat, we eat the second pizza because it tastes so good.
So, to lower that mountain, we have to eat the right amount – not only one time, but several times. You learn the guitar by playing chords several times. You learn basketball by shooting free throws several times. You learn temperance by eating the right amount several times, so many times that it becomes easy. Taylor Swift doesn’t have to try hard to play music. Lebron James doesn’t have to try hard to play basketball. It’s easy for them. And for the temperate person, eating the right amount is also easy.
And that’s the whole point, right? We want to prepare the way of the Lord. We want to make his coming easy. If there are mountains and valleys in our soul, we make it hard for Him to come. But if we are virtuous, if we have filled the valleys and lowered the mountains our soul to make a level path, we have made it easy for Him to come into lives. We have prepared the way of the Lord.
Earlier I mentioned that I find this image of mountains and valleys especially appropriate right now because of Christmas break. Friends, I’m happy for you. You need a break. If we are high strung all the time, we will be the ones who break. God rested on the seventh day, not because He needed it, but because we do. There is a time and place for rest, play, and leisure, and I am happy that you have that opportunity after the trying days of finals. You need a break from intense studies, but do not make it a break from the life of virtue. Even though your professors will no longer expect something from you after finals, our Lord will still want to come into your heart and soul. Continue to prepare the way. Continue to be virtuous.
Consider these three virtues to be attentive to over the break:
Religion – religion is the virtue that helps us to give God his due, which we do through prayer and worship. The Mass schedule may be different at your home parishes. Your daily schedule of life will certainly be different. Make sure you anticipate how you are going to maintain your relationship with God through personal prayer and Mass.
Leisure – the virtue that concerns leisure is known as eutrapelia (throw that one around at your parties). It helps us to pursue fun in the right way, not too much, not too little. It helps us to choose activities that will actually recreate our energies, not sap them. Temperance is not only about eating the right amount of food; it’s about eating the right kinds of food that will give us bodily health. The same is true for leisure. As fun as watching four episodes on Netflix could seem, it can actually cause us to become even more tired and lazy than when we started. Make sure you choose good activities for your well deserved fun over the break.
Charity – charity is the virtue that helps us to love God and neighbor. Chances are you are going to come into contact with friends or family members that are difficult. Charity helps us to forbear those difficulties for the sake of love, of willing their good. It would be good to anticipate those difficult interactions so that you can be ready to respond with love rather than react with frustration.
Religion, leisure, and charity. As you are home to enjoy a well deserved break, be attentive to lowering the mountains and filling in the valleys where these virtues are lacking. There will be no shortage of opportunities to practice these virtues over the break. And by your generous practice, you might become not a Taylor Swift or a Lebron James. You might become a Saint. That is what preparing the way of the Lord is all about.
Fr. Greg Gerhart is the Associate Pastor at St. Mary’s Catholic Center. Before entering seminary, Fr. Greg graduated from Texas A&M University and worked at The Pines, a Catholic youth camp in East Texas. He studied Moral Theology and Bioethics and is also interested in Liturgy and Social Justice. Fr. Greg enjoys playing sports!