A long time ago, just after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the name that the early church used for itself was “The Way.” If you look carefully in the New Testament scriptures you can see that name in use. “The Way.”
In fact, these words are the beginning of Mark’s gospel, which we read today. It is predicted in Isaiah. We know this phrase well from the first reading from Isaiah that is quoted in today's gospel. “a voice of one crying out in the desert: prepare ‘the way’ of the Lord." There it is - the original name for our religion. “The Way.” Jesus calls us to be followers of “The Way of the Lord.”
The scriptures this weekend teach us two steps in becoming followers of “The Way of the Lord.” Let’s take a look at them.
The first step in following The Way comes from St. John the Baptist. He appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Step #1 in following The Way is “repentance.” Repent comes from the latin “pentare” which means “think.” So re-pent literally means “re-think.” St. Paul phrases it this way in his letter to the Romans. “Be transformed by the renewal of your minds.” We need that baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All of us need this so that we can become holy.
Listen to how St. Peter describes holiness in the second reading today. “What sort of person ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion.” “Be eager to be found without spot or blemish before the Lord, at peace.”
Two spiritual practices help us in following The Way of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The first is this: a thorough examination of conscience on a daily basis. Do this each night before going to sleep. The second is this: the regular use of the Sacrament of Penance. Listen! If it has been more than six months since your last confession - then it is WAY past time. If you wash your car with more frequency than you cleanse your soul in confession, then reprioritize your spiritual life. After all, the first step of The Way is repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
The second step in following the Way comes from the end of today’s gospel reading when John the Baptist says “I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit that St. John mentions? It is a number of things.
* It is the indwelling presence of Jesus given to us at baptism.
* It is the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us at Confirmation, which Isaiah describes as knowledge, understanding, wisdom, council, courage, piety, and wonder & awe.
* It is the life of Jesus within us when we accept him as Lord and Savior.
* It is the evidence of our faith in Jesus by living his gospel with good works.
* It is the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love operating in our lives.
* It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit within us, which St. Paul describes in Galatians as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
* It is the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit which St. Paul describes in Corinthians as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment of spirits, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues.
Jesus said in the sermon on the mount that “if you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” We need to ask God Almighty again and again for the gift of His Holy Spirit.
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the second step in The Way. This is part of what it means to be a Roman Catholic – a member of the universal church of Jesus Christ in union with the Pope and our local bishop.
The Way proclaimed by the early church is still The Way today. This is the basis of our Catholic faith, handed to us by the Lord Jesus himself. These two steps of The Way are what each of us needs over and over again.
Step One – repentance for the forgiveness of sins!
Let us go to the Lord again and again
humbly confessing our sins so that we may be healed of them.
Step Two – the baptism of the Holy Spirit!
Let us ask the Lord again and again
to fill us with his Holy Spirit so we can live the gospel.
These steps are the ones that, in a powerful way,
prepare The Way of the Lord:
the way of the Lord into our hearts;
the way of the Lord into our world;
the way of the Lord leading us to eternal life.