At Mass yesterday, Father drew the familiar connection between the Old Testament injunction, repeated in the New in the Sunday Gospel, to “make straight in the desert a highway” (HST, Handle Standard Translation) and our need to prepare our own souls to receive Christ this coming Christmas. That the Bible has a personal as well as a historical and a communal application is, of course, no news to any Christian. But something from Father’s emphasis struck me this time: we are to make straight our lives, yes, by clearing away any impediments that stand in our souls preventing Christ’s passage; but the area we are making straight is a desert.
The soul and barren land: here is an old pairing indeed. John goes into the wilderness, the Fathers into the desert; seed is dropped on rocky ground; the dark night of the soul; sicut cervus desiderat ad fontem aquarum, ita desiderat anima mea ad te deum … etc., etc. Behind all the pairs, one way or another, stands the idea of the utter poverty and nakedness of the soul before God.
A comforting idea, actually. It’s that moment when, as you face the dinner party with mild social anxiety and the stress of too much to do, the host says, “Just bring yourself.” Of course, you’ll haul along a bottle of wine or a batch of muffins to show your good will, but it is a comfort to know You don’t need to bring anything.
It’s alright to be a desert. You are one, whether you know it or not. You don’t need to bring anything—just to strip a few of the cacti away.