For travelers before the advent of modern highways and automobiles, hills and valleys would have been an unwelcome sight. At best, the hills slowed them down, making the journey more difficult. At worst, a particularly steep hill or deep valley could prove to be impassable, requiring a lengthy detour.
In our spiritual lives, we have hills and valleys that we need to overcome. Now, I'm not talking about the ups and downs that come with our emotions. Instead, these hills and valleys are obstacles placed between us and God by the sins we commit in our daily lives. The challenge before us is how do we “prepare the way of the Lord” in our hearts, filling the valleys and lowering the hills?
The Gospel passage today gives us the ultimate example of preparing the way of the Lord. John the Baptist was born for one purpose only: to announce the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Notice how St. John prepared the people of Israel for Our Lord's ministry. He preached “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He knew that sin blocked the people who lived at Jesus' time from hearing the call of God, and would prevent them from following Our Lord. He wanted to remove the obstacle of sin from their lives in order to prepare them to follow Jesus.
When it comes to sin, things haven't changed in 2000 years. Sin still prevents us from hearing God's call and following Him. In fact, there seems to be a denial of sin's effect on our lives. Either we ignore the fact that particular actions are sinful, or we deny that sin exists at all. Those hills and valleys in our spiritual lives keep getting bigger and steeper.
During this season of Advent, this season of preparation, we hear the call of John the Baptist, as well as the prophet Baruch, that the valleys be filled and the hills be brought down. We need to remove the obstacles that sin places within our lives by expressing true sorrow for our sins and asking God for forgiveness through the Sacrament of Confession. Much as a new road needs to be prepared by leveling the ground, filling in valleys and cutting through hills, regular Confessions help us overcome sin's grasp on our lives and open us to receive more of God's grace.
This is a process that will take a long time to complete. Our sinful nature is deeply rooted within us, and we will struggle throughout our lives with its effects. If we regularly approach Our Lord and Confess our sins, say once a month, we will find that we become less willing to commit our “favorite” sins. This is not to say that we will ever become sinless on Earth, but regular reception of the Sacrament of Confession will prepare us for the day when we will be made “pure and blameless for the day of Christ”, as St. Paul says.
This Advent season, I encourage you to make use of the Sacrament of Confession in preparation for the coming of Our Lord, and to make regular reception of this Sacrament a habit in your lives.