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When nothing seems to happen, God is paving | Word Alive

Katie Zou

Friday, December 4, 2020

Photo by Benjamin Yang on Unsplash

When nothing seems to happen, God is paving

A reflection for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B

by Katie Zou

“Prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”
This one line appears in all four Gospels. Can you believe it? Not even Jesus’ birth is recounted that many times! So why did God think it necessary to repeat it four times (five, if you count Isaiah)?
I don’t know if you’ve ever done anything like paving a road before, but any construction project —erecting a house, raising a deck, or repaving a driveway — is HARD work. And it takes TIME. I am not an engineer or a handyman, but my dad knows his way around tools and construction, and he decided there’s no better time than during quarantine to repave the driveway.
Our driveway was long overdue for a makeover: the bricks where the wheels went had sunken into ruts, which made it hard for the car to get into the garage in winter, especially when there’s lots of ice. Naturally, my brother and I were pulled in to help. We spent hours squatting outside pulling out bricks, replacing old ones, measuring the slope, pouring in gravel, pounding them even, and reinserting bricks. Some bricks had lost their bottom half to erosion. Others were totally powdered from years of pressure.
And that got me thinking about parish life and ministry. Jesus often used the metaphor of building houses, foundations, and watchtowers in his preaching. Fun fact: the Greek word for “carpenter” includes people who did stonemasonry and erected buildings. So Jesus and St. Joseph were builders. Jesus spent 30 years in Nazareth with his father (and Heavenly Father) just laying foundations, putting down bricks, building frames—completely hidden from the world! No miracles, no preaching. To the outsider, the spirituality of Nazareth is like “nothing is happening”. Quarantine is like “nothing is happening”. Yet this is the period where Jesus built His foundation—His humanity, His prayer life—side by side with His mom and dad.
In the human person, one’s human formation is the foundation for spiritual life, and that in turn is the foundation for the fruitfulness of ministry. Grace builds on nature. Quarantine has brought all our parish activities to a standstill, and many ministry leaders and parents wanted to see things running again, to see something happening. But as I placed bricks down on the driveway after repaving a section with new gravel, I realized: now is not the time for all those activities. Now is the time for strengthening the foundations. If not now, when? It’s not just a fitting season—it’s a necessary one. Some ministries and parishes have focused on “doing things” for many years, perhaps even by the same people. That’s a recipe for a worn driveway and crumbling bricks. We can’t have our strongest bricks eroding to dust in God’s temple: that’s called neglect. One’s Interior Life with the Lord is the foundation for everything else, and it must come first.
And the work is slow and hard. Yet, what can you expect if you’re “lifting every valley” and “levelling uneven ground”? Sometimes, since Advent is only four short weeks, we imagine that “preparing the way for the LORD” is fast—doing an Advent calendar, squeezing in a Confession before Christmas—but it’s slow work. Church life in quarantine times is slow work. The wheel ruts took the most time and energy to raise. It feels like nothing is happening, as if everything is still on “pause” until we can “get back to normal”. But that’s not how God wants us to think of this time! In his book The Power of Silence, Cardinal Sarah points out that the greatest things in life happen in silence. Think of Jesus in the womb and in the tomb!
St. Peter in today’s Second Reading explains that God isn’t “slow about His promise as some count slowness”. Rather, it’s a form of God’s mercy: He gives us time so that we might all come to repentance and strive for holiness. Peter, our first pope, asks: What sort of persons should you be to live lives of holiness? Especially when a pandemic seems to have stopped the world? What areas in your spirituality and family need repaving?
When John the Baptist was calling for people to repent, I don’t think he was calling people to enter a quick fix to right their Interior Life with God and be on their way. Repentance is one thing: growing in holiness is another. The first renounces; the second builds up. The first is audible; the second is silent. The former is quick; the latter requires time and patience. Advent is a time of building – not just a season before Christmas, but a spirituality for the rest of our lives – because the Second Coming is still to come.
Our Father in Heaven has not stopped building. Will you let Him build you?

The readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B, are
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

Katie Zou is the Youth Minister at St. Agnes Tsao Catholic Church in Markham. She graduated with a Masters of Arts in Catechetics and Evangelization from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Her greatest desire in ministry is to see young people choose sainthood. When she's not prepping, teaching, or leading formation, she likes to read, write, and enjoy time with her siblings.

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