“Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.” Isaiah 40:1-5.
The prophet Isaiah writes: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” Advent is preparing us – especially those who know exile, alienation, hurt, or confusion. Advent reminds us to receive the Lord’s healing embrace and comfort.
At the very beginning of Mark’s gospel, John the Baptist appears and boldly proclaims “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” He tells us to be attentive to the “day of the Lord” and carefully listen to the prophets surrounding us. Yes, there are women and men whose prophetic vision brings healing and hope.
Such vision need not foresee particular outcomes; instead, they bear witness to our present lives. Like John the Baptist and Isaiah before him, we, too, are preparing for Christ.
Like a healing tonic, Advent of 2020 is not to be discounted nor overlooked. Not now, not during this time of Covid-19.
My Francisfactor.com blog began five years ago — it remains a way of imparting Pope Francis’s preaching and prophetic voice as a “game-changer” for the Church and the world.
At that time, I was preparing for the pope’s 2015 visit to the United States and using the blog to inform the media and others about that historic papal journey. Since then, this website has become a collection of my sermons and writings. And, of course, my interest in preaching has come full circle with my video project, Sunday to Sunday, the preaching journey. Go to: https://sundaytosunday.net/
In his papacy, Pope Francis has demonstrated a kindly, humble, and even playful presence. His focus on mercy and forgiveness is a central theme of his thinking and writing.
Francis reveals in the most personal terms that he is the “parish priest of the world.” His most recent book with Austen Ivereigh, “Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future,” and an opinion essay in the New York Times give ample evidence of the pope’s pastoral authority.
On Thanksgiving Day, Pope Francis published “A Crisis Reveals What Is in Our Hearts” in the New York Times (November 26, 2020).
Here, Francis writes about the time when as a young seminarian he faced severe illness. Recalling this episode may be his way as a spiritual leader to better cope and teach life lessons about the Covid-19 world health crisis. More so, his revealing the exact details of his own life and death struggle might be a reminder for us that Jorge Bergoglio is not immune from fear and uncertainty.
In the article, Pope Francis shares a glimpse of what it was like to know the consequences of a near-fatal condition. He writes:
“When I got really sick at the age of 21, I had my first experience of limit, pain, and loneliness. It changed the way I saw life. For months, I didn’t know who I was or whether I would live or die. The doctors had no idea whether I’d make it either. I remember hugging my mother and saying, “Just tell me if I’m going to die.”
The pope shares the details of his hospital stay, his serious lung condition, as he comments:
“I remember the date: August 13, 1957. I got taken to a hospital by a prefect who realized mine was not the kind of flu you treat with aspirin. Straightaway they took a liter and a half of water out of my lungs, and I remained there fighting for my life. The following November, they operated to take out the upper right lobe of one of the lungs. I have some sense of how people with Covid-19 feel as they struggle to breathe on a ventilator.”
To aid his recovery, two religious sisters, of the Dominican Order, as nurses, were part of the medical team. He credits them with his life. He continues:
“I remember especially two nurses from this time. One was the senior ward matron, a Dominican sister who had been a teacher in Athens before being sent to Buenos Aires. I learned later that following the doctor’s first examination, after he left, she told the nurses to double the dose of medication he had prescribed – basically penicillin and streptomycin – because she knew from experience, I was dying. Sister Cornelia Caraglio saved my life. Because of her regular contact with sick people, she understood better than the doctor what they needed, and she had the courage to act on her knowledge.”
Pope Francis asks that we act on our knowledge and re-order our priorities because of our present health emergency. In the face of Covid-19, he writes in a practical way about the need for human solidarity:
“To come out of this crisis better, we have to recover the knowledge that a people we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us the no one is saved alone. What ties us to one another is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as they are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation, we can build a better, different, human future.”
Prophets and even popes can be dreamers. For humanity’s sake, Pope Francis has dreams that seek a better and more just world, one of harmony, mercy, and healing. He concludes:
“This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities – what we value, what we want, what we seek – and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.”
Listen again to Isaiah’s plea, “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.”
So too, in 2020, this is Pope Francis’s comforting vision for the human family.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” combines a deep longing with anticipation of Christmas. Here is a wonderful choir under the direction of Jeff Bonilla of Saint Monica’s Catholic Community. For the live stream of Masses and their online parish community, go to: https://stmonica.net/