'Are you the one?' Is 35:1-6, 10; Ps 146:6-7, 8-9, 9-10; Jas 5:7-10; Mt 11:2-11 The fiery prophet John had challenged the ruler, Herod Antipas (the son of Herod the Great), a despot known for his cruelty and promiscuous lifestyle. As a result, John was arrested and imprisoned in the desert fortress of Machaerus, awaiting execution that would come later in the Gospel account. John knew of Jesus’ reputation and his mission, but perhaps his dire confinement triggered doubts and so he sends some of his disciples to question Jesus: “Are you the one? Or should we look for another?” Jesus, who would speak of John as the greatest of the prophets, tells John’s disciples to report to him “what you hear and see.” Then Jesus cites the powerful evidence of his healing mission: “the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised and the poor have the good news preached to them.” Here is the beauty and power of the Gospel compressed into Jesus’ own words. What Jesus touched was transformed; when he spoke, peoples’ hearts soared. The first reading today from Isaiah uses the image of the desert to describe God’s people Israel at a time of malaise. The people were like a parched and seemingly lifeless desert. The biblical peoples knew a lot about the desert. According to the biblical account, their ancestors trudged through the desert to find their promised land. The land of Israel, then and now, is surrounded on its southern and eastern borders by trackless desert. Sometimes I am tempted to think of the church that way. Almost on a daily basis these days, we hear discouraging reports about the church: examples of the scourge of clergy sexual abuse keep reappearing, ripping open wounds that haven’t had time to heal; many young adults seem disillusioned by or indifferent to the church and fade away from participating in it; vocations to priesthood and religious life are few; and here in Chicago (as elsewhere) parishes are being consolidated and many faithful Catholics mourn. We, too, seem to stumble along in a parched land. But Isaiah’s purpose was not to bemoan the hazards of the desert but to imagine its transformation into a land blossoming with vibrant life, “blooming with abundant flowers.” A place that would prompt “rejoicing with joyful song.” It is God who transforms and renews the parched land giving it the glory of Mount Carmel and the lush vegetation of the plains of Sharon. But, of course, this imagery of flowers and glorious vegetation is a metaphor for the healing of the people through God’s redemptive power: feeble hands are strengthened, weak knees made firm, frightened hearts made strong, the eyes of the blind opened, the ears of the deaf cleared, the lame leaping like a stag, the tongue of the mute singing. For all its failings, the church still lifts up a vision of a God of incredible love and compassion, a God who is a healer and a restorer of people’s hope and dignity. In every generation there are faithful Christians, members of the church, who carry on God’s healing work. Throughout its history, with all its flaws, the church has maintained hospitals and clinics and sheltered the poor and the orphaned. Catholic Charities found in dioceses across the country today have a long history in the church around the globe and through the centuries. So, as I take stock this Advent and hear John the Baptist’s anguished question, “Are you the one? Or should we look for another?” I think of an answer to that question found in John’s Gospel when Jesus asks his disciples “Will you also go away?” Peter’s reply, I suspect, is the reply of a lot of Catholics today: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Advent is a time when each of us individually and collectively are to take stock, to deepen our faith and to recommit to being a church that reflects the abundant beauty of Jesus himself.