A little over a week ago I went to help at Hunt correctional, if you don’t know where that is, if you go almost due north across the Mississippi river you will run into St. Gabriel, and in that area are two prisons, the Woman’s prison or LCIW and Hunt for the men. I was invited to help with their weekly Mass. After Mass they had a Christmas party, I was expecting it to be a party in honor of the volunteers who helped all year. I was wrong! It was a party for the inmates, the volunteers brought in tons of food, and it was good: Popeyes chicken, pasta alfredo with shrimp, green beans, brisket, and other good food plus deserts. What was unexpected is the volunteers, and a couple of inmates served the food. The inmates would come up one by one, and a volunteer would take their plate of food and their plate of salad to the table. We served over 100 inmates. The only thing that reminded that you were in prison, was the count and that some of them were wearing prison clothing. For me, it was a joy to be generous with my time for people who usually don’t receive much of anything this time of year.
We hear again from John the Baptist. He continues to prepare us for the coming of the Lord. Last week he referred to the prophet Isaiah when he said, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” He continues to prepare the way for the Messiah whom we will soon welcome at Christmas.
We hear John speaking to those who come to him, including tax collectors and soldiers. He challenges them to live a life worthy of God. John the Baptist didn’t only come to baptize those who came to him, to preach repentance, he as well called those who followed him to live a holy life. It was common for tax collectors to demand more than what was actually due to them. Imagine paying more taxes than you needed to, and instead of getting a refund, the person who collected the taxes pocketed the extra and gave the correct amount to the state. John the Baptist challenges them not to take more than what is prescribed, a widely accepted practice. Then a soldier comes to him and asks John what they should do. Soldiers at times would loot and steal after winning a battle, or even fight as mercenaries or be hired soldiers. John the Baptist challenged them to be satisfied with what they earned, to be honest, and not to steal. John the Baptist was teaching not only repentance but called people to live a holy and moral life.
We have a little over a week left till Christmas, I know I still have more preparation to do as the day approaches. I still have a couple of things to ask for from Santa, and I still have some cards to write and presents to buy or order from Amazon. Advent is not only about preparing for Christmas but too working to change the way we live our lives. Advent is an excellent chance to examine ourselves and ask, what areas do I need healing, what am I too attached too, what sins seem to continue to come up in my life? What do I need from God to overcome them? If you haven’t been to confession in a while taking the opportunity during Advent to avail yourself of this sacrament!
Advent as well is an excellent opportunity to look at the way we live our lives and to strive to do more almsgiving and charitable work. The saints can be an example to us on how to live this way. I know some of you are excited for Santa, and I hope you get what you told him you want! However, did you know Santa is following after the example of a Saint who lived over 1000 years ago? St. Nicholas did like Santa does now he brought gifts to the poor. One story I heard was that there was a poor father who didn’t have enough to pay for his daughters to be married, so St. Nicholas secretly gave him gold so he could provide for that man’s family. We can follow after him in the ways we are generous during Christmas!
I know for me during this season it’s easy to think about what I want from Santa what I hope to get as a gift. As we grow older and as we have family and friends of our own we should not only think about what we want but how we can be generous to others.
We can all take this time during Advent to grow in holiness, by removing sin from our lives, but mainly living a life worthy of God, and by being generous with what we give to our family, and what we give to the poor and the disadvantaged. Prisoners are one of the many people during this Christmas season who will not receive much, who won’t go to many Christmas parties, but that one opportunity they had last week gave them a joyful chance to celebrate. It was very joyful for me too. Being generous with our resources and our time can bring joy into our lives. Let the joy of giving and being generous also be a part of the joy you have this Christmas!