About thirty years ago a baby was born in Nebraska to a loving Christian family, and given the name Emily. Unfortunately, at the age of only seven months, she suffered a stroke. Emily recovered, but from then on her health was fragile, and her parents were very careful with her. When Emily was five, the family drove out to Seattle in their RV to visit relatives, and on the way home stayed overnight at a campsite in Yellowstone National Park. As they were driving through Wyoming the next day, Emily, who seemed lethargic, suddenly said, “Mommy, I’m sick.” Marlene, her mom, could see that her eyes were unfocused, and then Emily began vomiting; it appeared she might be having an epileptic seizure. The next town, Rock Springs, was sixty miles away. The family raced down the road, praying all the while—for Emily seemed to be fading, and there wasn’t a minute to waste. As they approached Rock Springs, they saw with dismay that the town was much larger than they expected; how would they ever find the hospital in time? Emily was unconscious, so Marlene prayed, “Lord, we need to get to a doctor fast!” Then her husband spotted a blue sign with a white H on it—a hospital sign alongside the road. That sign, and four others just like it, led them to the hospital. The emergency room doctor quickly diagnosed Emily as having an epileptic seizure, and stabilized her just in time with anticonvulsant drugs.
Afterwards, while thanking the doctor, Marlene added, “If it weren’t for those hospital signs, we might still be driving around looking for help.” The doctor didn’t know what she was talking about, and when Marlene explained about the blue and white signs, he said, “I live on that road about eight miles from here, and I travel it every day—and I’ve never seen any signs.” Surprised at this, Marlene and her husband later looked for the signs, but couldn’t find them—and when they called the Rock Springs Chamber of Commerce the next day, an official told them, “No—there have never been any hospital signs along that road.” The only explanation Emily’s parents could think of was that God had worked a small miracle on their daughter’s behalf. They later shared this story with the members of their church in Nebraska, and from then on, whenever any of the parishioners had occasion to drive out West, they always used that particular route in Wyoming—for they considered it holy ground (Joan Webster Anderson, Where Miracles Happen, p. 25). This true story offers us an important reminder: if we turn to the Lord in a spirit of trust, He will show us the way and provide us with a safe path to follow.
It’s a terrible waste to live one’s life without any sense of direction or purpose, and, sadly, many people in our world subject themselves to this sort of emptiness—but today’s readings assure us it doesn’t have to be that way. As Christians, a wonderful goal awaits us, one that’s well worth all the efforts and sacrifices needed to reach it; moreover, God doesn’t leave us on our own—He actively offers us His guidance and assistance on our journey through life. The Prophet Baruch (5:1-9) tells us that God is leading His people “in joy, by the light of His glory, with His mercy and justice for company.” Likewise, St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Philippians (1:4-6, 8-11) that “God—Who has begun a good work in each one of us—will continue it and complete it on the day the Lord Jesus returns in glory.” As long as we cooperate with the Lord’s plan and open our hearts to His grace, we can be sure He will lead us safely to our goal of eternal life. John the Baptist testified to this truth; he was “the voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight His paths.’” As the Gospel of Luke (3:1-6) tells us, John preached a message of repentance and spiritual renewal, and those who heeded his words were thereby prepared for the coming of Jesus, who as Messiah fulfilled all the ancient prophecies.
A little-known saint of the 12th century named William of Vercelli wanted very much to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but his friend St. John of Matera told him, “No, don’t go—God has a different plan for you.” However, William convinced himself that what he wanted was also God’s will, so he ignored John’s advice and set out on his journey—but soon afterwards was attacked by robbers, who took all his money and provisions. A humbled William realized this was a sign John had been right, so he returned home to his true calling: living for a time as a hermit, and later as the abbot of a monastery.
Life is often confusing, and sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what the Lord is asking of us, or to figure out what we should do, while not getting lost or misled by confusing our own desires with God’s will. The saints have some valuable advice for us in this regard. St. Basil the Great says it’s our duty to ask God for guidance on what we should do, for, in the words of St. Ambrose, “The will of God is the measure of [all] things.” Also, St. Rose of Lima assures us that “When God is consulted sincerely, He gives a clear answer.” In practical terms, St. John Paul II advises us to begin by consulting the words of Scripture, and St. John Vianney adds that “God speaks to us without ceasing by His good inspirations.” This means that if a noble idea comes to us, and lingers on even when we try to forget it, it may very well be guidance of the Holy Spirit. St. Edith Stein notes that prayer is extremely important in trying to determine what the Lord wants of us, and St. John of the Cross suggests we also seek the guidance of our guardian angels. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, St. John Cassian states, “True discernment is attained when one is really humble.”
Each of us is called to prepare the Lord’s way in our own lives, and to follow a straight path that leads us to His Kingdom. As the saints tell us, if we are humble, obedient, and open to God’s guidance through Scripture, prayer, spiritual inspirations, the assistance of our guardian angels, and the advice of holy people, we will not lose our way. Especially in desperate times, the Lord will show us the proper path to follow—even if it takes something of a miracle, as was the case with Emily and her family. There are no limits to God’s power or to His love for us, and these weeks of Advent are a wonderful and important opportunity to deepen our response to Him. The words of St. John the Baptist are a personal challenge to each one of us; if we take his message of preparation and repentance to heart, we will surely find the way that leads to everlasting joy.