There's a custom in Peru very similar to the one in today's Old Testament reading (Baruch 5:1-9). When a loved one dies, they wear mourning clothes for a period of three years. Then, having celebrated a third anniversary Mass, they go to a side chapel to take off their black clothes. (Don't worry, on account of the cold there are several layers underneath.) Once again they participate in joyful activities like dancing at fiestas.
The prophet Baruch refers to the removal of mourning garments and uses it as an image of new life after a period of sorrow - in this case, sorrow for sin. After the suffering of Exile, he tells them the time has arrived to "take off your robes of mourning and misery." (Bar 5:1)
What is this robe of misery? St. Paul gives a clue. He speaks about "worldly sorrow" which paralyzes the the soul, distinguishing it from "godly sorrow" that leads to repentance and a different life. (2 Cor 7:10)
To take off the robe of misery (futile sadness) and replace it with joyful garments (repentance, new life) is the challenge of Advent.
I have a little meditation book titled My Way of Life which gives this comparison: Suppose a young man gets caught in pattern of dissolution - alcohol, pornography, drugs, whatever. As he becomes drawn in, he feels miserable and hopeless. He lacks the power to rescue himself. But into his life comes a good woman who realizes what he needs is not just one more person to satisfy his desires. At first she fascinates him, then he falls in love with her. Former "pleasures" start to look small. To gain her approval he stops associating with old companions. He goes to work, even saves money, so much does he desire union with his beloved. He has taken off the robe of misery and allowed God to replace it with one of right behavior and joy.
John the Baptist refers to this transformation as making a "straight path" for the Lord. (Lk 3:4) We need to hear the call during Advent because our love can decline. To pick up the former example, a man who falls in love and gets married does not always live happily ever after. My Way of Life puts it this way:
If this happens with our relationship with God, then we have fallen into what is called mortal sin.
The comparison between husband-wife and man before God breaks down in a number of ways. Besides the obvious fact she did not create him nor is she innocent of sin, she can also stop loving him. Christ cannot do that. His nature - shown by his death on the cross - in a sense requires him to keep loving even his most sneering betrayer.
You and I perhaps have not sunk so low. But if you are living with mortal sin, now is the time to receive the "baptism of repentance," (Lk 3:3) what we call the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And even if you are in the state of grace, you can still make an Advent confession. It will aid you in realizing St. Paul's prayer:
"That your love may increase...so that you my be pure and blameless for the day of Christ." (Phil 1:8)
From Archives (Homily for Second Sunday of Advent, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
St. Mary of the Valley Album
(November of 2009)
Pictures from Peru
(Aaron Howard with girls at Puno orphanage, Daughters of Charity in background)
First Federal Execution Scheduled for December 12: What Jesus Teaches about Death Penalty
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Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
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