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A road in the desert, not a city street | Gospel of December 10

By 6 December, 2023No Comments
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Gospel according to Saint Mark 1:1-8:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way. A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.

John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

A road in the desert, not a city street

Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries

Rome, December 10, 2023 | Second Sunday of Advent

Isa 40,1-5.9-11; 2Pe 3,8-14; Mc 1,1-8

The Gospel of St. Mark begins with the arrival of St. John the Baptist. A discreet and austere person, he soon attracted the attention of many, and the whole region of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem, flocked to him. Perhaps the first lesson we can learn from the Baptist is the significance of his dress of camel’s skin and his food of honey and locusts from the desert. There are authors who say that John spent several years in the wilderness. These are signs of distance from the world, as well as the fact that he chose the desert to begin his mission, to make it clear that he had no other interests. This gave him an unexpected moral authority, given his youth, which was later confirmed by Christ, when he said that no one greater than John the Baptist has arisen.

The most frequent “alternative” to the extreme ascetic life of John is not depravity, but mediocrity, as Pope Francis calls it, that shifting sand, capable of dragging us where we never imagined. Yes, it is true that, after entering mediocrity, we often reach true perversion. This is the case with sexual abusers and those who abuse their authority, but also with any of us who allow “small concessions” or indulgences in our lives.

These concessions reinforce our insensitivity, and it ends up happening to us as it did to two other people who were in the desert, a priest and a Levite, and did not attend to the victim who had been assaulted. No personal discomfort, no scruples, no remorse or shame, no repentance and confession. Little by little, they had learned to neutralize and defuse their compassion, as Amedeo Cencini says.

Even the corrupt and fearsome Tetrarch Herod trembled, believing that Jesus was the resurrected Baptist (Mt 14). But John had not hesitated to tell him face to face the scandal he was giving by cohabiting with his sister-in-law. Nor did he hesitate to send his disciples to Christ, nor to insist that he was not worthy to stoop to untie the Master’s sandals. Of course, it is hard to imagine a greater detachment and detachment than that of John. You and I can talk for many hours and write many pages about the necessary detachment from the world, but, if it becomes authentic and visible in our lives, it has the power to illuminate the way to Christ.

However, we always want to keep something for ourselves, we want to touch the fruit of our supposed generosity as soon as possible. It happens to us like the monk in the story often told by Buddhists:

A young, enthusiastic monk, he was determined to attain (for himself) enlightenment. Overflowing with enthusiasm, he approached the master. Master, if I meditate 5 hours a day, how long will it take me to attain enlightenment? The master replied: 10 years. Thinking that this was expecting too much, the student then asked: How long will it take if I meditate 10 hours a day? The master replied: Twenty years.

It is our Instinct for Happiness, which enslaves our soul and our spirit. St. John the Baptist accepted to follow the path of true happiness, the same happiness that Jesus felt when he exclaimed: I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to children. Yes, Father, for so it has pleased you (Mt 11: 25-26). It is the same joy that St. John himself experienced in prison, when he observed how his disciples were growing in faith.


From St. John we can learn the two elements that make up this path to happiness: a total, continuous detachment and a maternal/paternal gaze on our neighbor. This is precisely what is seen in a good mother or in a good father of a family.

Of course, John begins by speaking of conversion… and Christ does the same. Some of us may think that at some times we do NOT need conversion, only when we make a regrettable mistake or do “visible harm” to others. Surely, because we confuse conversion with “not committing sins” and we do not quite believe that we are asked to detach ourselves from all that sin has attached to it: the worldly mentality, the continuous desire for comfort, the demand always for a better time, better means, better brothers to do good. Let us not forget that Christ himself asked to be baptized, because he humbly wanted to show that he accepted all the means then known to live separated from the worldly spirit.

This conversion is not an end in itself, but is followed by an attentive gaze, by contemplation of the kingdom of heaven, with its personal and shared tasks. Moreover, as Pope Francis has recalled on several occasions, this conversion is a grace that we have to welcome, something that is impossible for us to live in our own strength. This is what the First Reading invites us to build: NOT a road that leads us to God, but a road that allows Him to come to us.


And now comes the experience of every day, of what is happening in my heart, in the heart of my neighbor, in the world: Reality seems to flatly contradict the hope we spoke of in Advent, just as it seemed to contradict those who had been awaiting the coming of the Messiah for decades. But the Second Reading warns us: For the Lord, one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.

The measure of time is different for the kingdom of heaven. Let us recall a historical moment in the life of a French diplomat and poet, to understand it better:

On Christmas Day 1886 Paul Claudel entered out of curiosity the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris. Hearing the Magnificat sung, he had the heartbreaking experience of innocence, of the eternal infancy of God, and exclaimed: Yes, it is true, it is really true! God exists. He is here, He is someone, a personal being like me! He loves me. He is calling me. Later he wrote about this event: In an instant my heart was touched and I believed.

It was a moment that marked a frontier in his life, which from that day on took Christ as its center. But it does not necessarily always happen in such a striking way; in any case, every encounter with Christ is a real beginning, a change in our life that remains forever, that does not fade away. It is not necessary (nor is it possible) for us to think about Him all day long. What is important is that when we feel Him next to us, as Claudel did, we make a decision, a determination that means a conversion, a new way of looking at my soul and above all of looking at others.

This has happened and continues to happen to many faithful people who, after a confession, a word, an accident, a moment of silent prayer, a dialogue… notice that Christ offers himself to convert them. It is not necessary to feel capable of changing the world, not even a neighborhood or a few people; we simply need to demonstrate with our witness that another way of living is possible. Christ demonstrates that this is so, always, for everyone, when we see him mixing with the most hated people and known for their public sins or their pagan beliefs: publicans, prostitutes, Samaritans….

If at any moment I feel the presence of Christ in my life, what I have to ask myself is: What does He want to tell me? Where does He want to take me?

Indeed, this is the Gospel attitude. What the Second Reading says is very illuminating: It is not that the Lord is slow, as some suppose, in fulfilling his promise, but that he is very patient with you, for he does not want anyone to perish, but everyone to repent. In other words, it is exactly the opposite of what we think: it is not God, but you and I who are too slow, who are slow to learn what is happening inside and outside of us. Let us remember how many times Jesus laments the slowness and laziness of his disciples when it comes to understanding and learning.

This constant of the slow growth of the disciples is illustrated in Mk 8: 22-26, when Jesus heals a blind man. Unlike most of Jesus’ other miracles, this man is not completely healed the first time Jesus touches him. The first time, he sees “men walking like trees.” His eyes are healed, but not completely. Jesus must come to him again and heal him even more.

This is an image of our life as disciples. Christ must come to us, poor, awkward disciples, many, many times. In fact, He is to come to us every day and every moment. Therefore, we should not be discouraged if we seem slow-witted and hard-hearted: this is the normal condition of the disciple. The good news, of course, is that we have the rest of our lives to observe the virtue and innocence of our neighbor, to feel the whisper of the Holy Spirit, to draw conclusions about the vanity of the world.

Today’s Gospel text, the book written by Mark, starts like this: Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Messiah, Son of God. For many of us, the Gospels are nothing more than the four books in which the events of Jesus’ life were narrated. However, the usage of calling these texts “gospels” was introduced several decades after they were written. Previously this term did not indicate a book, but simply good news, brought by a messenger. The proclamation of victory, fortunate events, peace agreements and, above all, the news about the birth, the life, the glorious deeds of the Roman emperor were “gospels”, good news, because they aroused hopes of well-being, health, peace. Whoever heard of them shuddered with joy.

By using the term “gospel,” Mark intends to tell his readers: the gospels of the emperors betrayed expectations. The joyful news that does not disappoint is another: it is Jesus, the Lord’s anointed, the Son of God. The arrival of St. John the Baptist is a splendid sign of the good news, of the kingdom of heaven. The powerful did not see it this way, they did not leave their palace to go to the desert.

May it not happen to us as it did to them and every day, before any sign that God puts in our path, let us think: He is here again and wants to speak to me. Today I am going to renew my baptism, my promises. I am going to live as who I really am, according to my nature, without the mountains and valleys that have continually hindered my path.


In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,