In the Gospel that we just heard proclaimed, God chose John the Baptist to prepare the people of Israel and to point them to follow Jesus, who is the Messiah whom they have been waiting for. For John the Baptist to prepare himself to serve this mission of God, he withdrew into the wilderness of the desert. There he wore a garment of camel-skin and lived on locusts and wild honey.
John the Baptist probably chose to live such a rigorous and austere life because he wanted to live away from the attractions and comforts of life that caused him much distraction from his mission. Being detached and living in solitude, he was able to be more in touched and in tuned with the Spirit and the voice of God.
The first point that would be good for us to take note of in this Second Week of Advent which is on “Peace” is to reflect on the way we live our lives and to ask ourselves, “Do we live a cluttered life?” “Are our lives ‘cluttered’ in such a way that we are not able to see and sense the presence of God who is in our midst and not able to hear His Voice that are within our hearts?”
Thomas Merton, a renowned spiritual writer says, “Our minds are like crows. They pick up everything that glitters, no matter how uncomfortable our nests get with allthat metal in them.” In other words, if we reflect on our lives, and look at what we have accumulated in our rooms and homes, “Do we find that we have collected and hoarded hundreds of things excessively and unnecessarily?
Joyce Rupp, another renowned spiritual writer who in sharing about her life’s experiences says, “I don’t know about you, but it seems like I am forever trying to get rid of the physical clutter in my life. I clear off the top of my desk and the next week it is messier than it ever was. I dust the house and put things away only to have to redo it soon afterward. It seems like there is always so much to sort out and discard.”
Joyce adds further, “The same is also true for me spiritually. There are so many kinds of inner clutter. The emotional clutter that are particularly confusing and complex are the clutter of my anxiety, resentment, harsh judgments, self-pity, and mistrust. These can take up a lot of inner space. Moreover, there are also the strident voices, negative thoughts, useless fears and worries, old wounding messages, and the ‘have to’s and want to’s, that are bullying me around, and squeeze out the good things that are within me and waiting for me.
One sunny March morning as I was taking my usual walk up a high hill near my home, I noticed all sorts of trash and discarded items on the grass along the sidewalk. The discarded debris was unbelievable. The next day, as I was taking the same walk, I began to notice that the foul and horrible mood that I was in resembled the debris that are scattered around. My negativity was cluttering my spirit, and keeping me from receiving the joy of the day.
I began to realise more clearly, that “anything can be clutter if they keep me totally absorbed in myself and unaware of the peace and joy of life that God is offering to me. Even wonderful things like success, knowledge, beauty, and pleasure can become ‘clutter’ when I seek these things madly and at any cost, obsessed with having more, clutching them closely to me, or putting all my energy into preserving them. I do not have to discard these good things, but I do need to keep them from taking over my inner life. If this should happen then, there will actually be very little or no room left for God within me and in my life.” (cf. Adapted from: The Cup of my Life – A Guide for Spiritual Growth, Joyce Rupp; Pauline Publications: Mumbai, India; 1997; pp.46-47).
My sisters and brothers in Christ, when we “clutter” our lives and hoard things that gives us a false sense of contentment and security, we will realise that such contentment will diminish and disappear within hours and days of having acquired them. More seriously, when we “clutter” our emotions with negative feelings about people, or are not able to accept and love ourselves as we are, or when we continue to harbour hurts and allow them to fester within us, we cloud our thinking and confuse our feelings with thoughts and emotions that distract us from the voice of God that constantly tries to reach out to us and bless us with His “Peace”; the “Peace” that the Second Week of Advent proclaims.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us remind ourselves that there is much we can learn from this account of the Gospel on John the Baptist. “Do you think John the Baptist would have been effective in his mission, if his life was cluttered with unnecessary material and emotional concerns in his life? Clearly not.
John the Baptist in today’s Gospel reminded his followers to follow the Messiah, whom he says, “Someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of His sandals.” This is the Christ whom he will point out to them, but before they can accept the Messiah, they are to prepare their hearts by accepting the “Baptism of Repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Likewise, if we wish to be freed of our “clutter in life” then, we too must be more resolved to live a more spiritual life. We could begin by coming for our Parish family’s Penitential Service.
And for the next two weeks of Advent, do make special efforts to come for the Ignatian Day of Recollection that helps us reflect on the Christ’s Compassion, join in the Mass for special needs children, participate in the NCC social outreach to the aged, and spend an hour of guided contemplation during each night of the Triduum. These are different ways in which our Parish family concretely offers us opportunities to help us free ourselves from the unnecessary material and emotional clutter in our lives and experience the needed “Peace” in our hearts and lives so that we can more fully prepare ourselves for the Birth of Christ at Christmas.
And so, as I conclude, let us remind ourselves of the grace of this Second Week of Advent; that if we are to receive the graces of the true “Peace” that God wants to give us, then we need to unclutter the unnecessary things of our lives – materially and emotionally, this is so that we can once again recover and sense the depth of what life is and what our faith in Christ at Christmas is about.
Is there any wonder that Jesus chose to be born in the simplicity of a stable, the stillness of the night and be first visited by the shepherds - the humblest and poorest of all peoples? Let us then spend these coming weeks of Advent in greater simplicity and solitude so that living a more spiritual and uncluttered life, we may then be able to sense the “Peace” of God in our hearts.
Msgr Philip Heng,S.J.
visitors since 15th December 2014