The attire and the habits of St. John the Baptist strongly clashed with the customs of his time. Consciences were deeply shaken by the contrast of impure and avaricious men, with the honest, simple, and eloquent figure, who cried out: ‘Do penance!’


Gospel of Second Sunday in Advent

1 “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’

John the Baptiser appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, ‘After me comes He who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit’” (Mk 1:1-8).

I – Evil in the Created Universe

As science progresses it reveals startling wonders in the vast sidereal expanses. Countless heavenly bodies of refulgent beauty are constantly being discovered in the astronomical spaces beyond human parameters, moving at astonishing speeds and in delicate and sublime harmony, reflecting the perfection of the Creator.

If these findings warrant admiration, consider that the omnipotent God could have created infinite universes, with an infinite array of creatures, and with these infinite beings in his presence for all eternity. He would have had perfect knowledge of all happenings within each of these worlds, for, as St. Peter points out in the second reading of this Sunday of Advent’s liturgy, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day (2 Pet 3:8).

“The Prophet Isiah”, by Aleijadinho –
Shrine of the Good Lord Jesus of Matosinhos,
Congonhas do Campo (Brazil)

It is proper to Divine Providence to ordain evil for good

Now, how can we grasp that God who is omnipotence and goodness in substance created our universe in which sin appeared, in the revolt of Lucifer, even before the fall of our first parents? Why did He allow them the capacity to fall? Would it not have been better to create a humanity incapable of stooping, for instance, to the folly of constructing the Tower of Babel?

Such questions harass men of every era, and become especially distressing today, considering the widespread hedonism and aversion to all forms of suffering. They invite us to recall the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas, according to which “allowing evil in the things governed by God is not incompatible with the divine goodness.”1

In justifying this affirmation, the Angelic Doctor offers, among others, the following reason: “If evil were completely excluded from things, the elimination of many goods would follow from this. Therefore, it is not proper to Divine Providence to exclude evil totally from things, but rather to ordain to some good from the evils that arise.”2

Father Monsabré develops this subject with literary beauty: “Evil is, of itself, odious, but industrious Providence knows how to extract benefit from it in favour of the good. From the spectacle of triumphant iniquity, He awakens the desire for a sublime perfection which compensates, in the eyes of God, for the humiliations of our degraded nature; He harvests heroic virtues where evil persecutes the good, merits that could not be acquired in a tranquil life; bloody sacrifices, that, united to the Sacrifice of the Cross, enrich the precious treasury of Redemption. From the aggressions of error, He makes rise admirable manifestations of truth. Roman corruption engendered the hermits of the Thebaid; the furor of the executioners multiplied martyrs. The insolence of heresy convoked Irenaeus, Athanasius, Hilary, Cyril, Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome and the entire sacred squadron of Doctors of the Church to battle.”3

The same author adds: “Peruse the history of catastrophes and you will invariably find evil condemned to favour the cause of good: errors inciting the search for truth, heresies opening the field for dogmas, barbarian invasions rejuvenating the life and virtue of the people, revolutions punishing great crimes and providing harsh and salutary lessons on the effects caused by depravation of laws, characters and customs; persecutions producing the glorious race of martyrs, and the crime of Calvary consummating the Redemption of the world.”4

The liberation announced by Isaiah

Among the numerous Old Testament episodes showing God drawing good from the evils  that afflicted the Jewish people, is the period of captivity in Egypt (cf. Ex 1:8-22) which ended with Moses, or even more fittingly, the Babylonian exile recalled in this Sunday’s first reading (Is 40:1-5;9-11).

God took pity on the Jewish people, languishing under Babylonian dominion and expiating and weeping over their sins, by sending them the Prophet Isaiah5 to announce their long-desired liberation: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned” (Is 40:1-2).

The prophet’s words highlight that the time of pardon for God’s people had come. He took the initiative of removing them from captivity, imposing only one condition: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain” (Is 40:3-4).

This is symbolic language, signifying spiritual realities. In effect, the prophet was inviting his people to subdue the pride that makes man think of himself as a god; to act honestly, root out errors and eliminate inner bitterness caused by self-love and egoism, thus establishing the conditions for the Creator to manifest his goodness and power.

However, the liberation prophesied by Isaiah went beyond the Old Covenant, and was to be taken primarily in its Messianic meaning: “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for Him; behold, his reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd, He will gather the lambs in His arms, He will carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Is 40:10-11).

We see then, that with its clear and rich symbology, this Sunday’s first reading prepares our souls for the Redeemer’s coming.

II – The Voice that Cries in the Desert

Today’s liturgy presents the beginning of St. Mark’s Gospel, called the Memoirs of Peter6 by St. Justin, since the sole concern of the  Evangelist—disciple and expositor of the Apostle—in writing it, was to maintain total fidelity to all that he had heard from his master.7

A twentieth-century author comments: “By his Hebraised Greek, supported by early witnesses and the internal examination of the book, we are touched to find the unmistakable physiognomy of St. Peter […] This is the Gospel of Peter, simply composed by his disciple, with no other literary pretence than reproducing his master’s preaching.”8

It is very significant that this second synoptic Gospel was written in Rome, and for a milieu predominated by converted Gentiles. In fact, according to Eusebius of Caesarea, this manuscript was written at the repeated request of Mark by those who had personally heard the Prince of the Apostles. They insistently exhorted him to compose a written memorial of the doctrine transmitted to them verbally, giving him no peace until he had completed his task.9

Main message of St. Peter’s preaching

1 “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

Energetic and direct like his master, St. Mark opens the account by immediately revealing the central idea that will guide and imbue his Gospel: Christ is true Man and true God.

To defend the divine personality of Jesus, St. Peter’s preaching emphasized the supreme dominion of the Son of God over the forces of nature, over hearts and even over the demons, whom the Gentiles frequently worshipped as gods. Because of this, Mark includes many miracles not narrated in the other synoptic Gospels; his writing is hence known as the Gospel of miracles.10

“St. Mark” by the Master of Portilho – Diocesan and Cathedral Museum in Valladolid (Spain)

Ancient prophecy fulfilled

2 “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, who shall prepare thy way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”

St. John begins his Gospel by alluding to the eternal begetting of the Word. St. Matthew dedicates the first verses of his Gospel to naming the ancestors of the Messiah according to the flesh. And St. Luke opens his respective synoptic Gospel with an extensive narration of the miraculous conception of John the Baptist, prelude to the Incarnation of Christ in the womb of the Blessed Virgin, by the action of the Holy Spirit.

However, St. Mark’s Gospel, the shortest of the four, opens with the introduction of Jesus’ public ministry. “It was natural for the preferred disciple of St. Peter to start his account where the Prince of the Apostles placed the beginning of evangelical preaching,” Fillion notes.11

To introduce the subject, he solemnly proclaims a phrase of Isaiah recalled in the first reading,12 which reverently embraces the Old and New Testament. The “voice of one who cries out in the desert” is embodied in the person of the Precursor. The prophecy announcing the liberation from the Babylonian yoke assumes a much timelier and deeper meaning: the need for conversion and amendment of life as a response to the proclamation of the Good News that is beginning.

The greatest of men and prophets

4 “John the Baptiser appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.And there went out to him all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, and had a leather girdle around his waist, and ate locusts and wild honey.”

The attire and habits of John the Baptist strongly clashed with the customs of that society. He “represented penance; therefore he represented fasting, scourging, desert solitude and mortification. His skin was tanned by exposure to the scorching Middle-Eastern sun. Although strong, he was extremely lean because of the emaciating effects of his fasting. He was the personification of severity filled with kindness.”13

Wandering through deserted regions, wearing coarse camel hair and feeding on locusts and wild honey, were sure signs of ascetic life. The miraculous circumstances of his birth had spread “through all the hill country of Judea” (Lk 1:65). These factors contributed to impressing upon public opinion the figure of a person completely out of the ordinary.

It was not by chance that he withdrew to the desert—a place frequently chosen by God to communicate with men. Isolation gave him an air of eternity that would have been difficult to acquire in the agitations of social life. It was knowledge of this that led anchorites such as St. Anthony to flee human company for a life of solitude, in search of conditions that better favoured contact with the supernatural.

This choice highlights the noble spirit and the abnegation of the Precursor. As a relative of the Messiah—the Virgin Mary was the cousin of his mother, St. Elizabeth—he could easily have stayed in his parent’s house and enjoyed a more intimate companionship with Jesus. But he set out for the desert, docile to the breath of the Holy Spirit, and giving an extraordinary example of flexibility to the voice of grace.

Briefly put, St. John the Baptist was a matchless figure in Israel’s history. Herod the Tetrarch considered him to be a just and holy man, and offered him protection. He revered him and liked to listen to him, despite the fact that the Baptist’s words caused him unrest. His listeners asked themselves if he were not the Christ. The greatest tribute to the Precursor, however, came from the divine lips of Our Lord: “Among those born of women none is greater than John” (Lk 7: 28).

It was only he, of all the Old Testament prophets, who had the incomparable glory of personally meeting the Divine Saviour and identifying Him in unequivocal terms: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29).

It was necessary that the soul of this messenger be on a par with his mission. Superior to Abraham, Moses and Isaiah himself, Divine Providence desired to make of him the herald by antonomasia. “God wills him to be great because his mission is great, because he has been chosen to precede so closely the One who is to come.”14

A nation shaken by John’s preaching

As we observed in St. Mark, inhabitants from “all the country of Judea, and all the people of Jerusalem” (Mk 1:5) came out to meet John the Baptist. To these could be added the people from “all the region about the Jordan” (Mt 3:5) and even Galileans, such as Andrew, the brother of Simon (cf. Jn 1:35-42).

“We can imagine—comments Bene-dict XVI—the extraordinary impression that the figure and the message of John the Baptist must have produced in the highly charged atmosphere of Jerusalem at that particular moment of history. At last there was a prophet again, and his life marked him out as such. God’s hand was at last plainly acting in history again.”15

Moved by a supernatural impulse, the Jewish people sensed the harbinger of something great in the austere figure. The people came forward to confess their faults and receive baptism from him. The preaching of John shook this nation that had not heard the voice of a prophet for almost two hundred years and that stood in need of preparation to receive the Messiah.

The Precursor impressed these people who were accustomed to focussing merely on earthly things and who loved comfort and ease of life. Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira comments that in contrast to most of his listeners, “he is detached, a burning torch of the love of God. He lives for the fulfillment of his mission alone. He has only God before his eyes.” 16

The same author adds: “To that nation, which expected a temporal Messiah, a powerful king, John appeared, speaking of a Messiah. A Messiah announced by neither warrior nor monarch, but by a penitent.

“Consciences were deeply shaken by the contrast of impure and avaricious men, with the honest, simple, and eloquent figure who cried out: ‘Do penance!’ St. John the Baptist awakened a deep feeling of shame. In contact with him, people understood that they could not continue as they were. And the Precursor accentuated this effect by saying: ‘Make straight the paths of the Lord… The Messiah is coming… The day of God is at hand.’” 17

Preaching of St. John the Baptist – Cologne Cathedral (Germany)

The doors of Revelation are ajar

7 “And he preached, saying, ‘After me comes He who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’”

With this affirmation the Baptist hints at the moral, spiritual and supernatural power of the One to come. He also shows his deep humility since it is a servant’s duty “to untie the sandals” and wash the feet of guests.

We can imagine the impact of such an assertion on his listeners, who were accustomed to seeing him forcefully confront the Pharisees and Sadducees. He fearlessly warned them, “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt 3:10). Fascinated with his teachings, the Precursor’s disciples would have undoubtedly sought to fathom the greatness of this other personage who was so superior to him.

However, as he prepared the Jewish people for their encounter with the Messiah, St. John the Baptist also began opening the doors of the Revelation that the Son of God would come to bring. In these verses (Mk 1:7-8), the dogma of the Blessed Trinity already appears. In them are somehow present the Father, God of the Chosen People, the Son, who was being announced, and the Holy Spirit, mentioned along with the proclamation of sacramental Baptism. Thus, St. John shows himself to be truly inspired by God, since he anticipates the preaching of the Divine Master by his demonstration of knowledge of one of the principal mysteries of the Faith.

With the beginning of Jesus’ public life, the Precursor fades away: “This joy of mine is now full. He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:29-30), he would affirm. Immediately afterwards, he leaves as a final teaching, one of the most beautiful acknowledgements of Christ’s divinity:

“He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth belongs to the earth, and of the earth he speaks; He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what He has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony; he who receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For He whom God has sent utters the words of God, for it is not by measure that He gives the Spirit; the Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him” (Jn 3:31-36).

III – A Surrender that Prepares the Soul for Christmas

The liturgical time of Advent lends us a certain participation in the desires of all those in the Old Testament who faithfully awaited the coming of the Messiah, and to live the great expectation inspired by the Precursor.

Need for “constant conversion”

Two thousand years have elapsed since this historic event, but for God there is neither yesterday nor tomorrow, but rather an eternal “today”. Just as He awaited the conversion of the Israelites captive in Babylon, or the Jews of Jesus’ time, in the same way He awaits our amendment.

Desiring the salvation of all, the Creator treats us with patience while He waits to find us “without spot or blemish, and at peace” (2 Pet 3:14), as St. Peter affirms in today’s second reading. It is as if God were inviting us at each hour, minute and second, to correct our deviations and imperfections.

The first conversion should be followed by a continuous conversion. It is not enough to say: “I am Christian. I am converted!” Or, like the young rich man of the Gospel: “All these I have observed from my youth” (Mk 10:20). Or again: “With Confession I have passed from the state of mortal sin to the state of grace.” It is necessary that our love grow each day.

Even if we have progressed much in virtue there are always points for improvement. Our Lord invites us to keep our sights on the plus ultra, on the “duc in altum” (Lk 5:4),—to be ready to cast the nets out further, with a heart overflowing with an ardent desire for God’s greater glory.

“Mary with the Child Jesus, St. John the Baptist, St. Anne and St. Elizabeth” – Church of Holy Mary, Ingolstadt (Germany)

Solution within the reach of all

From this perspective, the question arises: is there not something we must surrender to Jesus before once again commemorating his birth in the grotto of Bethlehem this year? Perhaps terminating an improper or dangerous friendship which distances us from Him, or maybe the renouncement of excessive attachment to a specific possession or situation, that frequently leads us to sin. Today’s liturgy inspires us to lay at the feet of the Virgin Mother the defects impeding us from receiving the newborn Son of God with ardent devotion.

Do we not have an obligation this Advent, to make the effort to suitably prepare the “grotto” of our soul in order to spare Jesus the displeasure of finding it colder and more inhospitable than in Bethlehem? Let us make a careful examination to discover where we stand in this regard. We will surely find shortcomings to amend. What are they? There are certainly deviations we must correct in our lives. What are they?

If having weighed ourselves in the balance we find ourselves wanting, and if we feel that we do not have the courage to correct these defects, there is a solution within reach of all: turning with childlike confidence to Our Lady, Refuge of Sinners. She will obtain graces from her divine Son for a full victory over all our shortcomings and deviations. Jesus Christ—who desired to be confined in her most pure womb for nine months and to be totally dependent on her, and who crowned her as Queen of Heaven and Earth, stands ready to heed the supplications she makes on behalf of her devotees.



1 ST. THOMAS AQUINAS. Opúsculos y Cuestiones selectas. Madrid: BAC, 2008, v.V, p. 156.
2 Idem, ibidem.
3 MONSABRÉ, OP, Jacques-Marie-Louis. Retraites Pascales. 6.ed. Paris: P. Lethielleux, 1905, p.25-26.
4 MONSABRÉ, OP, Jacques-Marie-Louis. Exposition du Dogme Catholique. Carême 1876. 9.ed. Paris: Aux Bureaux de l’année dominicaine, 1892, p.205-206.
5 Known as the Second Isaiah, distinct from he who would announce the chastisement.
6 ST. JUSTIN, apud FILLION, Louis-Claude. La Sainte Bible commentée. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1912, t.VII, p.195.
7 Cf. EUSEBIUS OF CAESAREA. Historia Eclesiástica. Madrid: BAC, 1973, v.I, p.194.
8 CABALLERO, SJ, José. Introducción del traductor. In: MALDONADO, SJ, Juan de. Comentarios a los cuatro Evangelios – San Marcos y San Lucas. Madrid: BAC, 1951, v.II, p.3.
9 Cf. EUSEBIUS OF CAESAREA, op. cit., p.88.
10 Cf. FILLION, op. cit., p.194.
11 Idem, p.197.
12 It is worth clarifying that the phrase from Isaiah reproduced by the four Evangelists — “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Is 40:3) — St. Mark adds some words from Malachi (3:1) and Exodus (23:20). They can also be found in St. Matthew (11:10) and in St. Luke (1:76; 7:27). Cf. BENEDICT XVI. Jesus de Nazaré – Primeira parte: Do Batismo do Jordão à Transfiguração. São Paulo: Planeta, 2007, p.31.
13 CORRÊA DE OLIVEIRA, Plinio. Unpublished conference, 17/11/1972.
14 MARMION, OSB, Columba. Jesus Cristo nos seus mistérios – Conferências espirituais. 2.ed. Lisboa: Ora & Labora, 1951, p.122.
15 BENEDICT XVI, op. cit., p.31.
17 Idem, ibidem.


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