Advent, A Season of Service – Fire and Water

Catholic Volunteer Network and the Catholic Apostolate Center are pleased to bring you this Advent reflection series to support your growth during this important season. We welcome you to journey through these weeks of Advent alongside several of our current and former

volunteers who serve as contributors for this series. We are constantly inspired by their courage to step outside of their comfort zones and their commitment to serving those most in need. They have remarkable stories to share, filled with light and hope. Each week, a different writer reflects on the Sunday Gospel reading through the lens of their volunteer experience. Their insights on the four pillars of faith-based service; Community, Social Justice, Spirituality, and Simple Living, call us back to the true meaning of Advent. Click here to download the complete Advent 2016 Reflection Guide

Second Sunday of Advent

“I am baptizing you with water for repentance, 
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.”
Matthew 3:1-12

Reflection by MIchael McCormick, former Augustinian Volunteer, current Resources Coordinator at Catholic Volunteer Network

Today we meet John the Baptist, the voice in the wild. For me, John represents the totality of an individual living in accordance with God’s will. Through self-denial, John becomes a healer of sinners. Through self-abandonment, John becomes whole. How can anyone follow such a path?

I find direction in the two baptisms John describes. First, he says, “I am baptizing you with water, for repentance.” Then he says Jesus, the one who comes after, “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  John washes, Jesus burns. Both will cleanse me and remove my excesses.

Water and fire were two shaping forces during my service year in Southern California, where there is still a severe drought.  The unforgiving dry heat in the desert town where I worked exhausted everyone. The simple words, “Would you like a glass of water?” became a life-affirming phrase of hospitality. Rainfall, though rare, quenched our spirits.

Fire also formed us. In the dry hills, wildfires often threatened homes. In our community house, the small flame of our prayer candle was like my Pentecost, igniting a love for my three community members that mostly surpassed my self-love.

A lack of spirit, like a lack of water, leaves me dry and thirsting for God. A fire of purpose, kindled by the Augustinians, gives me the courage to proceed. I know I am chaff and dirt, yet God will find my grain and burn the rest – sin and sorrow and all that holds me captive.

Focus on: Social Justice

What strikes me is John’s offer of baptism not only to the meek, but also to the righteous Sadducees and Pharisees. Yes, John harshly rebukes them and commands repentance, but the offer is still there if they shall be humble. As Catholics, we pray that God will protect the poor, which he does. We also pray that God will forgive all sinners – including even the mighty.  I cannot help but think of our political climate, and how often we root for leaders to fail, when we should hope for their redemption and our own.

Service Suggestion

During my volunteer year, program staff would visit our communities as a way of checking in. They would also have one-on-one sessions with each volunteer, usually off-site, always over a coffee or tea. These unhurried talks were a form of service by the staff, giving their full presence to become a witness to each volunteer’s experience, struggles included.

This season, who can you check in on? To whom can you be present to? Make time and be a Christian witness to ONE person’s life, especially in this season when so much time is claimed by trivial affairs and festivities. 

God, help me to eat the locusts. Help me find the nighttime path. Help me bend this proud back, help me kneel by the river. Mend my cuts with honey and leaves, wipe the grime out of my eye, paste my tongue to the roof of my mouth and help me remember your silence. Your Voice fills the desert night, your Word kicks against the stomach, your fiery breath scorches me and renews me, you rip me from the dirt and for this I give thanks. 

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