Today’s gospel from Luke 1:67-79, known as “The Canticle of Zechariah,” is a hymn of praise to God. Zechariah was jubilant that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would finally have a child. The couple had all but given up on being parents, but God had other plans. Not only would they have a child, but this child would play a prophetic role in the great plan of salvation. This child would literally “prepare the way” for the long-expected Messiah.
Zechariah’s hymn recalled God’s promises that God’s people would be freed from oppression and be able to live their lives without fear. Scripture scholars see that this hymn is not about foretelling the future, but rather about the specific role that prophetic people would play in welcoming the Messiah. In short, the hymn references the role that their child, John, would play: initiating a movement of readiness-making – that is, preparing the way for the Messianic Era of equity, justice, security and self-determination for God’s people.
In the full context of Luke’s gospel, we come to understand that discipleship is about preparing the way of the Lord. The prophetic words of Zechariah and the words of John the Baptist are as prophetic as they are aspirational: that disciples of the Messiah are to create a world in which all feel safe. In which all are fed, housed, and loved. In which all are welcomed. And this is where we, Catholic Charities, comes in.
Catholic Charities “prepares the way of the Lord” for those who literally “dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.”
When we create pathways to recovery whether for those seeking sobriety or those rebuilding after a disaster, we prepare the way of the Lord.
When our immigration legal service team helps clients get work permits; our refugee team gets housing placement for refugee families; clinicians attend to the wounds of trauma in therapy and group work; our juvenile probation team provides safe spaces for young people to grow and learn from their past; and our chaplaincy team provides sacraments and pastoral counseling to the incarcerated, we prepare the way of the Lord.
We prepare the way of the Lord when our economic development department helps returning citizens find jobs, our family resource center and educational enhancement teams provide warm and stimulating learning environments for young families to grow together, and our parish-based teams work to strengthen neighborhood leadership and build up communities one neighborhood at a time.
Our preparation for the way of the Lord has led us to a manger and there, in the darkest of nights, we kneel before a baby whose life will literally be in our hands. And thus, the work of preparing the way of the Lord continues.
Blessed Christmas to all!
Fr. Jon Pedigo is assigned to work at Catholic Charities by the Diocese of San José. Ordained in 1991, Fr. Pedigo served in many parishes and has been involved in justice and peace ministry, interfaith relations, and community organizing. He serves as the Director for Advocacy and Community Engagement for Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County.