Our University is named in honor of St. John the Baptist. His statue appropriately stands in front of St. John Hall which was the first building on campus. Dressed in the traditional garb of camel’s hair and with a staff in one hand, he makes a gesture with the other hand which suggests that he is preaching.
John the Baptist plays a key role in this season of Advent which we celebrate in the weeks before Christmas. If I were to put words in the mouth of our figure of John, I would put the affirmation: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” This short phrase captures the essence of his message.
Most of us who have lived in big cities, and all New Yorkers, can claim familiarity with the sign “ROAD WORK AHEAD.” It signals the fact that the highway is undergoing some repair. Potholes and ruts receive a filling while bumps and humps undergo a shave. This leveling of the surface makes it easier for people to travel these roads and get to their destination more swiftly. This “prepares the way.”
When John the Baptist speaks of “preparing the way of the Lord,” he does not refer to the physical roads on which the Lord will travel, but to the pathways of our hearts. The summons emphasizes the need to be attentive to the bumps in our lives: what we do wrong; it draws our attention to the ruts in our lives and what we should do for ourselves and others. Leveling these obstructions makes it possible to walk more faithfully and surely. We become men and women who know how to proceed along the path to discipleship. As students and staff at this University named after the Baptist, we also take on these responsibilities in our community and culture.
One of the hopes of a St. John’s education is that all of us will make a difference in the way in which our world responds to injustice and prejudice (the bumps) and to hunger and need (the ruts). A brief look at our newspapers or programs reveals the opportunities and demands of our society. “Preparing the way” calls for an attentiveness and generosity which goes beyond simple awareness. The summons involves action and change of heart. Our association with St. John the Baptist provides the direction.