Several weeks ago I drove to Our Lady of the Pines retreat center in Fremont, Ohio to give a talk. Before I left, I googled the directions and saw that the center was about 120 miles from me via the Ohio Turnpike. I had no problem with the directions until I got into Fremont itself. That’s when I got lost—on Main Street.
Now whenever I get lost, I always stop and ask for directions rather than ride around wasting valuable time and gas. I usually stop at a gas station and look for a man. (Sorry, Ladies. I know that’s sexist!) I found a gas station and saw a man–probably in his 30’s–coming out of the gas station and walking to his car at the gas pump. I went up to him and said, “Excuse me, Sir—but are you from around here?” He said he was. I then asked him if he could direct me to Tiffin Street. Immediately he (and his wife who was sitting in the car) began to give me directions. It was a complicated route. I added, “I’m looking for Our Lady of the Pines retreat center.” Right away they said, “We live near there.” And they offered to lead me to the center. “Just follow us!” they said.
I was very relieved. For now I wouldn’t have to look for obscure (or non-existent!) street signs. All I had to do was follow their car. And I’m glad they offered to lead me, for the way there included several turns and some railroad tracks. The couple led me directly into the driveway of the retreat center. Then the man stopped, got out of his car, and came to my car. I thanked him profusely and asked, “What’s your first name and the name of your wife?” He said, “Tim and Mindy.” I promised I would say a special prayer for both of them for their kindness to me. And I did.
I don’t know about you, but when I need directions, I prefer someone to show me the way rather than give me verbal or written directions. The other day our printer needed ink. Since it was a new printer, I didn’t know how to change the ink cartridge. But Sister Sandy did. And she showed me how. How much easier that was for me than consulting some manual.
In a very real way we are all on a journey. It’s called life. We are all on our way home, but we don’t always know the way. Thank God we have Someone who doesn’t just give us directions. He shows us the way. He leads us home. His name, of course, is Jesus.
This is what Advent is really all about. It is the time in the liturgical year when we focus on the Incarnation, the coming of God into history as a human being. And why did God “pitch his tent” on planet earth? To give us directions—on how to live our life and how to find our way home. And Jesus did this primarily by the example of his life. In a way Jesus asks us: “Do you want to know who God is? Watch me. See how I relate to God as Abba, as Father. Do you want to know how to love? Follow the pattern of my life. Do you want to know how to deal with the uncertainties and ambiguities of your life? Watch me. Do you want to learn how to forgive? See how I did it. Do you want to have a full and rich life? Then come, follow me.”
The saints also show us the way. Though their circumstances might be very different from our own, the saints show us what’s really important in our journey of life: prayer, compassion, service, sacrifice, gratitude, and trust in God no matter what. Some of us are lucky enough to know other individuals who show (or showed) us the way. I think of my dear grandparents who immigrated to the US as mere teenagers, seeking a better life. In doing so they left their parents and some of their siblings back in Bohemia, yet they brought their Catholic faith with them, a faith they relied on their entire life. I also think of my own good parents who went to Mass every Sunday and who were persons of integrity and generosity, and who possessed great trust in God.
May our prayer this Advent be a simple one: Loving Jesus, you came to earth to show me the way to live. Please direct my decisions and choices. Help me to grow in love, compassion, integrity, and absolute trust in God. And, through all the turns, detours, and dead ends of my life’s journey, be with me. Lead me home. Amen.
Here is a beautiful Advent song by Francesca Battistelli called “Be Born in Me.” These are the words of Mary at the Annunciation. May they be our words too. May Christ we born anew in each of us this Advent! (Click below to hear the song. I’ve also included Tanner’s painting of the Annunciation below the video. You might want to reflect on the painting as you listen to the song.)
How does Jesus show you the way?
What are some of the ways Jesus can be born in you this Advent?