The Third Sunday of Advent [A]
Isaiah 35:1-6, 10 + James 5:7-10 + Matthew 11:2-11
Catechism Link: CCC 2559
December 11, 2022
The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
Born and reared as a Kansan, I have always loved traveling throughout the state. As I have had the chance to travel through other parts of the world, however, I have had to admit that the beauty of our state is not exactly the same as the beauty of other parts of God’s green earth. The beauty of our state is simple, subtle, and understated. It’s no wonder that when the first explorers came to this area, their report to those back east labeled this part of our continent “The Great American Desert”.
However, the beauty of Kansas is a lot like the beauty of Advent. Both are rooted in the virtue of humility. There are many virtues through which we grow in our spiritual lives, but each virtue has its proper place, and humility is the virtue of those journeying through a desert.
After all, the spiritual life on earth is itself a journey. We begin that journey the moment we are conceived, and end that journey only beyond the door of death. In between those moments of conception and death stretches a long path along which we exercise virtues such as temperance, fortitude, justice, prudence, faith, and hope. Each virtue offers some spiritual fruit for us to appreciate, some spiritual fruit to nourish us as we travel along that path that often winds through territory that is like a desert: barren and filled with trials and suffering.
But all of these virtues, and everything that’s good in our lives, leads ultimately in only one direction. Every virtue leads us in the direction of the goal of life: that perfect love which is called charity, or in Latin, caritas. Saint John tells us that this love is the very nature of God: God is love, he says simply [1 John 4:8]. Saint Paul tells us that this love is the greatest virtue, without which every other virtue is empty and meaningless [see 1 Corinthians 13].
This perfect love is the goal of our lives: we hope to live in the Presence of this perfect love forever in Heaven. This perfect love is also the goal of our lives here on earth. The only thing that we should ever worry about trying to do well is loving God and our neighbor: the great command of our Lord Jesus. This doesn’t necessarily mean doing great things. Even though it is the greatest virtue, love can be profoundly simple. Perfect love can express itself through very simple acts, as the Little Flower teaches us. Perfect love can even blossom in the midst of what seems like a desert of suffering.
Nonetheless, despite the fact that this perfect love is the goal of both daily life and our entire earthly life, we sometimes have to return to the basics. Advent—this season of plainness and of the desert—offers us a chance to rediscover what Saint Augustine called the foundation of all other virtues: the virtue of humility.
As the foundation of all other virtues, humility is a virtue that we cannot ever outgrow. If we think we can, we probably find it easy to sing the old song, “Lord, it’s hard to be humble when you’re perfect in every way.” In fact, all of the other virtues of our moral and spiritual life grow out of the “spiritual soil” of humility. Humility is laying ourselves bare: it’s really nothing more than honesty about who we are and where we figure in the scheme of things, which is to say that we are nothing without God.
This is why Advent is a penitential season. We seriously examine our consciences, go to Confession, and are reconciled with God and neighbor because only by admitting how much we are in need of God’s grace can we be ready to accept God the Father’s gift of His Son. And only with this virtue of humility as a foundation can we hope to draw others into the sweep of God’s love. If we allow ourselves to be loved by God and admit what a beautiful thing that love is, we want others to share in that love. But you cannot force God’s love, or throw His love, into the lives of others. The only way for people to be drawn into the mystery of its simple beauty is by starting with humility.