There is an old adage that we all have heard: “Actions speak louder than words.” St. Francis of Assisi said it this way: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if you must.” Ralph Waldo Emerson made the same point in different words: “Your actions speak so loudly that I can hardly hear what you are saying.”
John the Baptist knew the value of action. When his disciples came to Jesus to ask if he was the one for whom they had been waiting, the promised Messiah, Jesus did not say yes or no. Instead he said: “Tell John that the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life and the Good News is proclaimed to the poor.” John understood that answer immediately because he knew from his knowledge of the Jewish Scriptures that those were the actions the Messiah would take. There was no need to question Jesus any further. He was the one.
At this time of year, I regularly am asked how we Catholic Christians can best prepare for Christmas. My answer usually surprises my questioner because I answer in one word: change. To understand what I mean, we must return to John the Baptist for a moment. For him, belief in Jesus Christ required a radical change in behavior. Many people who identify themselves as Christians, however, do not seem to understand that point. A poll conducted by the Gallup organization indicated that there is little difference in behavior between those who go to church and those who do not. As one writer has phrased it: “There seems to be a widespread misconception among Christians that we can add Christ to our lives without subtracting sin.” Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth.
Pope Francis has spoken passionately on this same point. Each Sunday in the Creed, we profess our belief in Jesus Christ. But oftentimes we do not match our behavior to our belief. When those who are thinking about becoming Catholic see this self-contradiction they wonder if the Church is where they ought to be. Admittedly, it can be difficult to live the Gospel. But our sincere efforts in that direction are the best preparation we can make for Christmas. Not finding the right gift, but making our actions speak louder than our words.
To assist us in our ongoing conversion, we have two great sacraments: Reconciiation and Holy Communion. Many parishes have extended the times available for Confession during Advent, and once we are free of serious sin, Holy Communion is available to us at every Mass. Seize the opportunity now to receive God’s grace in those sacraments and let us strive to be known for our love, our willingness to forgive and our devotion to justice. Then the light of Christ truly will scatter the darkness of evil and peace will reign on earth.
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