By Father Brendan McGuire
Pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, San Jose, and Vicar General for Special Projects, Diocese of San Jose.
Ever since I was a kid, I have always loved to understand how things are constructed, whether it was buildings or roads or any other device. I subscribed to a magazine called “How Things Worked,” and I loved to disassemble things to figure out how they actually worked. One of the most compelling parts for me was how anything got started, the initial construction. For a building or a road, it was the foundation. The foundation was the key to a good building project, because if the foundation is right, then the building, the road, or any other construct would always endure.
One construction that most fascinated me was American highways, which were some of the best made in the world. They constructed the highways in layers: the layer on the bottom is heavier rock, and then each layer has smaller and smaller rock, and eventually the very top layer, which is the last layer, was asphalt or concrete, depending on the needs.
In the Gospel today, we are called to prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths. Matthew, the evangelist, connects this road construction as preparing the way. The foundational principle is repentance. Why is repentance a critical foundation for the road to the Lord? We are decent. We’re up early on a Sunday morning. There are a whole lot of other people who never go to Church. So we feel a little bit better about ourselves, but that is not the point. There are two aspects of repentance: 1) The acknowledgement of our sins, 2) the desire and the commitment to turn away from that sin and convert our lives.
The road to the Lord in Matthew’s Gospel is first and foremost about humility; the first thing we do every time we go to the Lord is to admit our sins. We have to start there, because that is the foundation to relationship with Christ. We are not always our best selves, not that we are the worst sinners in the world but that there are always things we have failed to do right or wrong each day. If we are really honest as we come to the table this morning, there are times when we have said something or done something which we know we should not have said or done. If we reflect on our days, we know in our hearts that we say and do things that are not helpful.
The second component is recommitting, turning back to the Lord. Repentance is the foundation of the way to the Lord. If we do this day after day, we are constructing the road ahead of us; not just for ourselves but for all. For all of those who have who have no clue how to construct the road to the Lord, it is a responsibility not only for us but for those around us who seek the Lord unknowingly; who seek to be good; who want the Lord in their life but do not know how to get there.