December 10, 2023
IS 40:1-5, 9-11; PS 85:9-14; 2 PT 3:8-14; MK 1:1-8
“Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.” Ps. 85:17;
“A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John the Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mk. 1:3
John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey. Mk. 1:6 (This character might not even warrant a second look on the streets of Kanab or Fredonia, wink, wink).
Some very vivid imagery, with an equally vivid message: “REPENT!”
As prefigured in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, hundreds of years earlier, John the Baptist came out of the desert. Looking all wild and unkempt. A Wildman conditioned by his environment and his calling since his first kicks in the womb. “Let’s DO THIS!”
John spoke with a real air of authority; a voice of strength and authenticity. A voice from the desert. Psalm 85 today told us that ‘truth would spring right out of the earth as justice looked down from heaven.’
There’s a lot going on there. This isn’t just a wild-eyed guy screaming nonsense. The very ground he walked on and slept on was speaking to him. In this magical, mystical place justice itself, or His-self, looked down from heaven.
In a couple years Jesus Himself would proclaim that all the power and authority of Heaven and earth was given to Him. Jesus would then confer that same power and authority of the Father in Heaven to the apostles and the emerging Church. “GO therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Well, how in the heck are we going to do that?!! Jesus quickly adds: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Jesus will speak to us personally from the heavens and the earth. He will speak to us as individuals and as a Church community and as a nation. Really? Is that true?
Again, Psalm 85: ‘truth would spring out of the earth as justice looked down from heaven.’
How confident are we that we can hear God correctly and that we will have the wisdom and strength to carry out the mission? The mission of truth-telling and nation teaching and kingdom building.
In today’s second reading from the Second Letter of Peter, Jesus speaks of His eternal presence in a way that calls out a bit of the mystic in all of us:
“Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day.”
The new liturgical year we have entered in Advent reminds us that the Church exists in a different realm of time. The very same strength that John the Baptist received in the desert is still very much available to us even if we might seem at times completely out of touch with God. Again, from Second Peter, “The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,” but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Ptr. 3:8
Not necessarily straight to heaven, but to REPENTANCE. And quite likely to the desert. We who live out here on the edge of the known world and right in the desert can enjoy first-hand a particularly vivid biblical image. With the courage to be silent for an extended period – whether it be hours, days or even weeks – we just might feel that ‘truth springing right out of the earth.’ We just may begin to know more clearly the genuine ‘justice that looks down from Heaven’.
Because this homily, typed in 16-pt font, is still barely over 2 pages, and most people HATE short homilies, I thought I’d add a little appendix. Our Eucharistic Prayer today reminds us that Catholics should read the signs of OUR times through the light of faith, so here is my stab at trying to do so.
This is a letter I wrote in October to the Bureau of Land Management. It is a response to their request for comments on their revised management plan for the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I recommended their option for the least amount of development; to keep it as wild and natural as possible.
Wilderness Management Alternatives – GSENM – BLM
My name is Rev. Richard Sherman, and I am a Catholic priest living in Kanab, UT and serving at St. Christopher’s Catholic Church. I have lived in Utah for 40 years and have served as a priest in southern Utah for the better part of 20 years. I have also been an avid backpacker, hiker, trail rider and cross-country skier during my time in this beautiful state. As a Catholic priest I have studied and preached from the Judean-Christian Scriptures (the Bible) extensively.
I am stating my preference for Alternative ‘D’ Management Plan, more reluctantly Alternative ‘C’.
Americans, especially Christians and Jews who comprise around 70% of the population, should recognize the enormous value of this land as it vividly represents the wilderness/desert motif that runs through the Judean-Christian Scriptures. The wilderness/desert is a place of purification, grieving, healing, strengthening, hope and renewal. It’s a place for one to be humbled before its enormity and silence.
This larger biblical understanding of wilderness is especially apropos as we continue to recognize our human limitations and confusion in negotiating national and world affairs. Our efforts to serve the common good require a deeper understanding of our common human natures and how we flow from the wider order of Creation. A deeper human encounter with nature on its own terms can be enormously effective in providing a necessary corrective for our errant and destructive behaviors. One would be hard-pressed to demonstrate this empirically, of course, but a studied and prayerful consideration of the Scriptures would bear out quite clearly God’s use of the desert/wilderness to guide His bewildered and so often ‘stiff-necked’ people. We of the post-World War II American generations should be increasingly aware of how poorly we have utilized our safety, prosperity and hard-won freedoms. We need a powerful reset.
This vast wilderness country could be used primarily for primitive retreats. Special week-long ‘reservations’ could be maintained for the U.S. Congress, Fortune 500 CEO’s, college professors and administrators, church leaders (especially bishops and their senior staffs), state government leaders and senior military officers. Safe, but very primitive accommodations could be set for a week-long encounter in the ear-piercing silence, free of technology and frivolous distractions. I would speculate that most of the people who wield such power and authority in our country have never spent a week in silence, listening only to natural sounds. This annual weeklong outing could be a new expectation for leadership. What a gift to the participants as well as to the whole world! Retreatants could then prepare a personal account of their new insights and inspirations.
A more developed explanation of our Judeo-Christian Tradition will also provide a smoother interface for a dialogue with the Indigenous Peoples’ sense of sacred as well as local concerns for what is considered rural lifestyle values. Local ranchers and Indigenous Peoples could provide non-motorized transportation to the primitive camping spots and help maintain them as needed. This would be a great source of economy as well as a great service to the whole country.
These national lands are an international treasure and deserve a dialogue of a more transcended nature. We are living in perilous, but equally holy times, if we can just muster the courage and humility to avail ourselves to the lessons of the wilderness desert.
As most of us know, this management plan has been batted back and forth like a political ping-pong ball, depending on which political party occupies the Presidency. Our biblical imaginations know that this sacred ground has a type of eternal voice that we need to hear. One that is bigger than politics or even dollars and cents. As we now enter more deeply into this sacred mystery this morning let us ask God to open us to the spirit of healing and repentance that we all need.