Mark A. Villano
Nov 30, 2022
"Are there things that are too precious to expose to real life? Things we’re afraid might get soiled? Maybe the most beautiful parts of ourselves? Maybe our faith?"
There was a time when I really liked a particular piece of clothing, say a shirt or sweater or tie, I would never wear it. I liked it so much I wouldn’t wear it. Crazy, isn’t it? It wasn’t because there weren’t appropriate occasions to wear these things. I guess it was because I didn’t want them to get worn out. I wanted to preserve their specialness. But what happened instead is that they were so well preserved that they outlived their usefulness. At some point, I’d go to find something I was saving and then it would be out of style. Or my tastes had changed so that I didn’t want to wear it anymore. Like I said, crazy.
Maybe this ran in my family. I remember a Christmas candle when I was young that never got lit. It was a very nice, pretty candle that would get packed away and would come back every year. One year, though, the candle came out and didn’t seem very pretty anymore. There was a film of dust and dirt (I think the technical term is crud) all over it. So, eventually, it got pitched. It was thrown away without ever doing for us what it was supposed to do.
Now those are just clothes and candles. But are there other things in life, other places in life where that can happen? Are there things that are too precious to expose to real life? Things we’re afraid might get soiled? Maybe the most beautiful parts of ourselves? Maybe our faith? Are the most truthful parts of us just like that beautiful family Bible that is stored on a shelf and never opened?
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothes yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12-14)
Faith has to get soiled. It has to get worn. The stories of our faith are meant to be a living word. If the stories of faith get filed away in the special drawer labeled "sacred," they become distant. They become hard to relate to. They become removed from the real world and lose their connection with real people and situations. They become less real. Less stories of faith and more like fairy tales. When they’re out in the open, there’s a chance we’ll see their significance and learn from them. When they only come out on special occasions, they’re less pressing, less important, less relevant.
In the 15th year of the reign of emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Harold was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the Word of God came to John son of of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (Luke 3:1-4)
I wonder if things had already started to feel distant to Luke’s community. He was writing toward the end of the first century, in the 80s (yes, just “80s”). People had heard the stories of Jesus for a while. Did they begin to feel more distant, less real, even then? Luke begins his gospel making the point strongly that the events he’s talking about are historical. He doesn’t begin with the words “once upon a time.” This is not a bedtime story to lull you to sleep. No, he begins setting the time and context of these events in the real world. This happened in human history. It wasn’t that long ago. It happened when Tiberius was emperor, Pilate was governor, Herod was tetrarch, Caiaphas was high priest.
In the real world, God spoke. We heard his voice. And it wasn’t in powerful political forces or influential religious leaders. It was in this wild man from the desert who said, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Little did we know how urgent and real that message was, that it truly was our paths he was talking about, the paths we travel every day. It was in the messiness of our lives that the Lord would come.
The message for those who still hear these words is that God is still speaking. God’s mysterious presence is at work in the real world. Our world. We can hear it and we can be part of that movement of the spirit right where we are, right now. At this time in history, God speaks: I am coming to you.
Mark A. Villano has an MDiv from Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He has ministered at parishes and campus ministry centers across the country, including at the University of Texas, UCLS, Ohio State University, and Yale. He has an MFA from the School of Cinematic Arts at USC and served as Director of Creative Development at Paulist Productions. Currently, he is Director of Mission and Ministry at Marymount California University, south of Los Angeles.