John the Baptist, by Gracie Morbitzer, find print here.

The second Sunday of Advent introduces John the Baptist. Beyond the locusts and honey, this intriguing figure invites us to consider repentance and preparation for God.

St. John’s University, an institution of higher education, with a mission rooted in faith, service, diversity, and academic excellence, while providing a home for often those excluded and marginalized, calls John the Baptist its patron saint.

As students, known as Johnnies, gathered in prayer in the campus Church this past Sunday, they did so on the cusp of final exams. The next ten days will present the climactic end of their semester. Projects, papers, assignments, and tests present these young scholars final challenges with significant implications.

Isn’t it appropriate, and also quite burdensome, that during this most stressful of times, God invites John the Baptist into the picture. The stress that college students are presented with is not limited just to those who occupy libraries and dorm rooms. We are all presented with our share of tests these days, especially during this joyful yet stressful season.

In the midst of the pressure, John the Baptist reminds us of what matters most. He points us toward God, inviting us to self-transformation.

Can we, like John in his mother’s womb, recognize Jesus (Lk 1:41)? Can we, like John, reflect and provide God’s love, as he did in the waters of Bethany, beyond the Jordan (Jn 1:28)? Can we, like John, humble ourselves before God (Jn 1:27)?

While tests and looming deadlines await our students, in the midst of these weeks of preparation, might we look at John and see the call to be like him.

In the wilderness of our times, how might we, in our words and actions, point our life’s compass toward a God that loves us unconditionally.

Is this not the most important of life’s tests?

Statue of St. John the Baptist on the Queens campus of St. John’s University

St. John’s, a Vincentian University, prepares its students to find God on the margins. It is in the eyes of those who face insecurity that we find a God who is waiting for our time and generosity, the diversity of our gifts and talents, and the culmination of our academic work to change systems of oppression and injustice.

This way of life is meant to be more than an ideal printed on promotional material or words during a commencement or homily.

As the lectures and chapters serve their purpose, it is the messages from those on the margins that speak to the heart. I remember very few lessons over my decades of academic work (this does not mean to say that I was not formed by them), but I remember those I served, and those who served me, with gratitude and fervor.

I am challenged by the injustices of our times much more than any paper or exam. I am moved by the cries of those suffering more than any powerpoint presentation or final project.

As much of the world prepares for Christmas, college students prepare for the intensity and the challenges of a week of finals. Let’s not lose the invitation to transformation, to own as duty and responsibility our role, like John the Baptist, to reflect God’s love.

At the start of each fall semester, I remind my first-year students that the purpose of a college degree means very little if it does not change the world. For all of us, no matter our level of education, our lives, our purpose, means very little if it does not transform injustice to justice, turmoil into peace, and hate into love.

John the Baptist, as a result of his words and actions, prepared people for transformation by encountering God. Might we do the same- inviting others to know the love and mercy of our God by encountering us, mirroring the unconditional love of our Source and Creator.

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