In these painful times of Christmas season

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”  – Mark 1:3

MANY residents of Southern California may not feel like celebrating Christmas this year. It’s because of the series of wildfires that destroyed numerous homes and devastated the lives of thousands of people, interrupting their plans for this most celebrated holiday.

This enormous disaster again caught us by surprise and made us think of the temporal nature of our homes, treasures, and other material possessions. Indeed, when the threat of fire comes to destroy our homes, we ask ourselves what we should save and bring with us to safety. There is not much except for essential documents, jewelry, pets, and photos of family members.

What is important, we say, is that our families are safe, that we still have one another. All our material possessions will vanish in flames, but the memories that we have created together will forever be in our hearts and minds.

Despite these consoling words, we still suffer and feel the pain of other people.  We hope and pray to God to stop this natural disaster and any other ones that may come.

As hard as it is to take, the message of this disaster is clear to us: Be always ready for we don’t know when catastrophe, sickness, or death comes. It’s a message that coincides with the theme of the Advent season, like in this Sunday’s Gospel when we hear the words, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”

To be ready means to always keep God in our hearts, to acknowledge our sins and beg for God’s forgiveness and mercy. To be ready means to reflect on all the goodness we have done for others and on any more good things that we can do while we live. To be ready means to focus our minds on the things that last such as our profound love and care for God and people and our virtues of diligence, hard work, and strong faith. To be ready means not to be attached to wealth and pleasures of this world, but to live a life of generosity, kindness, and compassion.

The Gospel this Sunday talks about the baptism of John as a baptism of repentance. It calls us to turn away from sins and to accept the offer of someone mightier than John the Baptist: Jesus, the Son of God who came to baptize us with the Holy Spirit.

In these hard times, let’s allow Jesus to pour into our hearts the refreshing water of hope, wisdom, courage, and peace. Let our faith not be destroyed by any disaster or misfortune. Let’s keep encouraging one another to remain steadfast and centered on our relationship with God. Let Jesus Christ, our Lord and Redeemer, be our hope and strength!

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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1991-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.

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