What St. Paul (Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11) encourages us to reflect upon could be a wonderful way of capitalizing on the holy season of Advent and it could be also a profitable program to carry out the rest of our life.
I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus…. that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ…
Wow! Our life’s plan should be all there, spelled out and ready to be implemented.
Let me expand on and paraphrase this passage to make it more accessible to us all.
“Fully aware of how much God loves us and how powerful the Spirit of our God really is I, Paul, am quite confident that the Holy Spirit, given to you at Baptism and Confirmation, will continue to speak to your heart whenever you place yourselves in a docile, listening mode.
By your humble and docile cooperation with him, the Holy Spirit will be able to transform you from within so that you would be ready to enter the Kingdom of God on the day of your death.
I, one of many believers who do so, pray for you and for all the others so that, docile to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, you would free yourselves of all traces of selfishness to grow in sincere love for one another.
Not only that, but by opening your mind and heart to the Holy Spirit, you would enable him to clarify for you the more mysterious aspects of our Catholic faith so that your knowledge of God and of his way of working in you and in the world would increase.
In this way you will soon be able to sort things out and focus your longing, energies and efforts on achieving only those things which are of lasting value in the unending life of heaven, while discarding those which fade quickly and would leave you with a sense of emptiness.
This is the process of genuine purification and sanctification and the only sure way to be ready for your final encounter with Christ in death.”
This is how, inspired by God, St. Paul puts it.
Now, if we are the type of people who prefer vivid images rather than just abstract concepts, we do not have to do anything more than turn to the Gospel of Luke (3:1-6).
The voice of John the Baptist crying out words of repentance in the desert expresses the same concepts from St. Paul. However, John the Baptist prefers to use the vivid images of a variety of difficult terrains which he borrowed from the prophet Isaiah.
Every valley shall be filled… We ought to work with the Holy Spirit to take the valley of our ignorance of God’s ways and fill it with genuine knowledge of the tenets of our faith. We ought to take the valleys of our selfishness, aloofness and lack of engagement with the less fortunate and fill them with concrete actions of loving service and self-giving with a generous heart.
Every mountain and hill shall be made low… By listening attentively to the Holy Spirit, we come to know our inner self better and realize that the worst obstacle on the way to genuine loving and to perfection are the mountains and hills of our self-importance and hubris. Self-importance and hubris make us stubborn, set in our ways, unwilling to yield, to bend, to adapt, to change, to meet people halfway, to own up to our mistakes, to go the extra mile, etc.
The winding roads shall be made straight…The Holy Spirit will shed light upon our inner disposition and thus he will expose our excuses, our half-truths, our rationalizations, our pretensions, our misleading statements, our make-beliefs and will remove that mask of righteousness that we choose to wear whenever convenient. If we keep in mind that Jesus is Truth and that Satan is the “father of lies,” we realize right away how crucial this work of the Spirit really is to make us transparent and forthright.
And the rough ways shall be made smooth… Sweetness, gentleness and kindness are precious gifts of the Holy Spirit. These exquisite inner attitudes will make our interaction with others, our loving and our serving all that more effective and fruitful. Rudeness, impatience, anger, arrogance can ruin an otherwise good job and turn people off.
Jesus told us to learn from him who is meek and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29). So, here we have the same program for Advent and for the rest of our life in two different versions: one from St. Paul, the other from St. John the Baptist.
It is up to us to pick the one that is better suited for our personality and spiritual needs. We are free to choose one or the other; what we are not free to do is to choose to miss this grace-filled opportunity and slide into Christmas with our old self still far from being pure and blameless for the day of Christ.