We lit the second candle of the Advent wreath and I don’t know what I did differently last week besides lighting the first Advent candle. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His path,” we heard at church.
One of the most intriguing passages in the Bible for me goes, “More tortuous than anything is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Because tortuous means full of twists and turns, I imagine the the topography of my heart to be circuitous, tangled and meandering. “Make straight the way of the Lord.” HOW?
Many Catholics may already have gone to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and that is one way to make straight the way for Jesus’ coming. Sin is an affront to God and neighbor, and breaks the path of love. Repentance and the forgiveness of our sins re-turn us to a path towards love of God and neighbor. With this sacrament, blocks are removed from our heart and the path is made clear.
There is another obstacle, a large one, that contributes to the tortuous-ness of our heart. This one is the most challenging one to displace and yet it cannot be done without our will: unforgiveness. Hurts, wounds, injuries inflicted on us by ourselves and by others, when they remain unforgiven, can be the biggest blocks that hinder us from making a straight path. The trouble with unforgiveness is that it is the stuff that hardens our hearts into stone, where nothing can flow – neither God’s grace nor love.
Moreover, keeping grudges, clinging to bitterness, harboring anger, all make for convoluted and labyrinthine hardened hearts that distort love. Many distractions of the holiday season only help to ignore these painful obstructions. We merrily take more twists and turns to avoid facing them. This Advent is a good time to forgive ourselves for the wrongs we have done, and to forgive others for the injuries they have caused.
Open Door to Freedom
Forgiveness is an act of our will that is both a very spiritual act and a very practical decision. Spiritual because as Jesus teaches us, we must forgive others so that we can be forgiven. The door to receive forgiveness from God is the same door that we open or close to others. Practical because the decision to forgive others frees us from bitterness, resentment, anger and a stony heart that keep us from loving.
Since it is a spiritual act, we can not do it on our own, we need grace, we need the help of the Holy Spirit. Let us ask God for the grace to forgive. Since it is a practical act, let us make a decision to forgive and resolve to let the bitterness go. We can ask a trusted friend to pray with us through these blocks in our heart.
Next Sunday, we light the rose candle of the Advent wreath. It represents JOY – Gaudete Sunday. Let us look into our tortuous hearts and face the blocks that have been there for years in order to make straight the way. Let us forgive ourselves and forgive others and become free. This year, make the Advent season count.