I read an account of a high school boy who had, as the story title put it, “Made it Easier to be Honest.” In one of his classes, there was serious cheating going on. With seats close together and the teacher’s head down in a book during tests, it was too tempting not to glance around. This boy thought it dishonest and so kept his eyes on his own paper. When the marks came out and his were lower than the others, he felt doubly aggrieved, not just because of his score but also because by comparison he looked so much worse. Though tempted to join the crowd, he decided to take another tack. In a class discussion, he complained how unfair it was and went on to make the further point of how it laughable it made the school’s so-called reputation for honesty. Though there was initial push back, his complaint struck home and in time the cheating trailed off. It became easier for him and for everybody else to be honest.
The story conveys the truth that even though it’s hard to be honest when most are not, one person’s efforts to change the atmosphere makes it easier for everyone to do the right thing. There are strategies that allow the good a better chance to emerge, different actions which soften the ground and permit more of the truth to come forth. The right deeds prepare the way.
Advent teaches this lesson – certain behaviors make it easier for God’s ways to seep into our ways. There are measures that unclog the channels and let God’s Kingdom of peace and justice flow more easily. Is not that the role of John the Baptist, arranging the scene that his cousin, Jesus of Nazareth, might more easily arrive and proclaim his message? John is moving things around on the stage (setting the stage) so that people can be increasingly receptive to who is about to step out on it.
Some contemporary examples of this kind of preparation?
- that High School boy who in speaking up made it easier for everyone else in the room to be truthful and honest.
- people whose efforts over the past year have worked to bring about a softening of resistance to racial equality.
- women who have fought against various social norms which had them left behind as second-class citizens.
- people like Pope Francis, alerting us to the increasing devastation happening to our planet and so opening more possibilities for innovative changes and remedies.
- Our judicial structures which only recently opened a road for DACA students to pursue citizenship
You might call steps like these facilitators, preparations that “make it easier” for us to obey the commandments and live by Jesus’ Beatitudes. A verse in psalm (85) sums it up: “ Justice shall walk before him – and (justice will) prepare the way of his steps.” Doing justice is a way to prepare the way of the Lord, be readier to receive Him when He comes.
The Patron Saint for these Advent weeks is John the Baptist, the prophet whose words and actions help us give a fuller welcome to the One who is coming. But might not St. Vincent also, with all his foundations and projects, be viewed as working right alongside the Baptist to set that Advent stage for his time. That One of course is the Lord Jesus, not just in that Bethlehem stable but more to the point as he arrives today in the good and truthful “preparatory actions” his followers undertake in the present.