Spirituality for Today – December 2007 – Volume 12, Issue 5
A Clear Path
I love snow. I delight in watching a multitude of dancing snowflakes transform the ugly, barren landscape of late fall into a beautiful, white paradise. Who would not cherish the presence of such a fluffy palliative to a once dreary setting? I even love to shovel snow. Somehow creating a clear walk lined by snowy walls gives me a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.
My mind lingers on another kind of walkway that needs clearing: the pathway between God and one's conscience. Advent, that bittersweet season of penance and joy, is a time that prods the faithful to prepare for the miracle of Christmas by opening the conscience to receive God's mercy and healing. The obstacles must be removed so that the giving and receiving involved in forming a good conscience may occur with greater ease. From the pivotal event of Pentecost, the interaction between the Holy Spirit's guidance and the believer's need has persisted. The Holy Spirit – the conscience's Conscience – bears the task, throughout the ages, of leading and refreshing the Church in the Truth of Christ. As individual believers, we need to turn to that divine presence to assist us in making sound moral judgments. This work, often daunting, requires an accessible route for the prayer and inspiration needed to weigh the choices before us.
On the occasion of the fortieth anniversary of the end of World War II, the ex-president of the former West Germany stated, "Seeking to forget makes exile all the longer, the secret of redemption lies in remembrance." The influence of the Holy Spirit on the conscience is to help one to remember and to guide one toward growth in that remembering. The act of remembering is laden with meaning. Summoning the reasons for guilt, regret, and shame regarding the conduct of one's life requires accepting the pain of those remembrances. The other side of this process of remembering is to recall the presence of God's mercy and compassion. Looking at one's sins is a distasteful and often a sickening task, One's belief that walking down that dark valley with heart and soul repentant leads to the bright and wondrous mountaintop of God's forgiveness and love is the only hope that would give one the courage to initiate such a venture. It is the promise of that redemption waiting at journey's end that is born by the Holy Spirit to an aching heart.
Peeling away all of the accumulated layers of forgetting, necessary in the work of remembering, can leave one overwhelmed. The missteps of life tend to result from a long series of convoluted, intertwined inclinations of intellect and emotion. Attempting to understand and to overcome sins, one may feel that they are a facing an indecipherable, fibrous mass – a Gordian knot of wrongdoing.
The weeks of Advent provide precious time to slowly and thoughtfully examine the motivations and circumstances that incited one to follow the wrong path. With God's help, the functioning of the conscience leads to a discovery of why one was attracted to a certain course of action, what rationalizations occurred, why one may have sought a perceived good in pursuing an apparent evil. Gradually, crucial insights may come to light. From this knowledge, an effective strategy for rectifying misguided tendencies may become visible. One small victory after another eventually wins the war. In the words of Plutarch, " many things which cannot be overcome when they are together, yield themselves when taken little by little."
The cyclic nature of the liturgical seasons furnishes the benefit of reminding one of the perseverance and the personal re-examination required to sustain one's moral gains. Like a cancer, the presence of sin in one's system is capable of stealth and mutation. The temptation to dismiss or, at least, to overlook the seriousness of the impact of sin on one's character is ever present. The words of Saint Augustine ring true through the ages that "God cannot deliver us unless we first undeceive ourselves." A commitment to maintain an authentic communication with the Holy Spirit is necessary for spiritual growth. In doing so, we are open, as once were certain shepherds and kings, to hear the voices of angels.
A wish for a spiritually fruitful Advent is a wish for a spiritually renewed person; a person prepared for the coming of the Savior; a person filled with the true Christmas spirit. This preparedness is the reward for facing the biting and bitter cold of one's failures and sins for the purpose of removing anything that would block the soothing warmth of God's mercy from one's heart. My Advent wish is the hope that all the faithful have accomplished the goal of fulfilling the call of John the Baptist to make straight the way of the Lord.
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