Sunday Word

‘Comfort ye my people’

Father David Scotchie
Second Sunday of Advent, Dec. 6
Is 40:1-5, 9-11; Ps 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14; 2 Pt 3:8-14; Mk 1:1-8

In Handel’s Messiah, the Tenor announces, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.” He is quoting the opening verse of the magnificent proclamation in Isaiah, chapter 40, that greets us on the Second Sunday of Advent.

Many are seeking comfort. If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “I can’t wait until things are normal again,” it would pay for all of my Christmas shopping. The pandemic has created a grinding anxiety. Day after day, we grow weary of our isolation, face masks, and economic uncertainty. The brutal general election in November has added to the desire for relief.

It may be me, but it seems that this Christmas 2020 is anticipated like never before. Christmas light displays have leapt from the stores onto front lawns before the Thanksgiving turkey was even carved. Forests of Christmas trees grow magically overnight in parking lot tents as we turn to the spirit of the season for comfort.

The words of comfort in Isaiah went beyond feeling a little less blue. They were directed towards the people in exile. The Israelites had been conquered and enslaved in a strange land, Babylon, where the years of exile had stretched into generations. Their very existence as a people was in doubt.

Richard Ward, in the commentary Feasting on the Word, compared the Babylonian exiles to the Native American peoples at the hands of the United States. They were victims of broken treaties and deadly forced marches from their fertile homelands to desert reservations. Their languages, cultures and religions were suppressed. Their misery continues today as they suffer generational poverty, inferior health care and education, and high rates of infection from COVID-19.

The words, “Comfort ye my people,” for those pushed to extermination like the exiled Israelites and Native American tribes, promise the salvation of God and deliverance from the death sentence of sin itself. The Church has an Advent message: mercy and hope!

In the penitential act for Advent, the priest invokes, “Lord Jesus, you will come in glory with salvation for your people: Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” The Lord shows mercy towards his people.
After the Our Father is said during Mass, the priest prays that the Lord deliver us from every evil and distress, “as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” In place of our passing comforts and latest distractions, the lasting comfort we seek is the coming of the Lord. He is our hope.

John the Baptist fulfilled the words of Isaiah, “A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD! (Isaiah 40:3). John appeared in the desert, the place where God had made the covenant with Moses and the people, to prepare them for the coming of the Lord. He was an air raid siren proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Like John the Baptist, the Church prepares the way of the Lord. We bring tidings of comfort and joy. Three things come to mind that we can do during Advent to help another find true comfort in the Lord:
Invite another to Mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This Tuesday, December 8, is the patronal feastday of the United States of America. The Immaculate Conception, conceived immaculate and without sin, is the patroness of our nation. As a mother comforts her child, the Blessed Virgin Mother gives comfort to all who cry out to her.

Invite another to your parish’s Advent penance liturgy. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we repent of false comforts such as addictions and distractions. We hear instead the words of absolution, “Through the ministry of the Church may God grant you pardon and peace.” What comfort is in this sacrament of healing!

Last but not least, invite another to Christmas Mass. Speaking for my own parish, we are ready for all who come for Christmas. We will observe social distance. All that remains is to extend the invitation to those in need of the Lord’s comfort:

O come, all ye faithful
Joyful and triumphant
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem
Come and behold Him
Born the King of Angels!
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
O come, let us adore Him
Christ the Lord.

To take to prayer: Who are you going to invite?

Father David Scotchie is pastor of Nativity Parish in Longwood.

Amen, Come, Lord Jesus!

Father Brian Campbell
Is 63:16B-17, 19B; 64:2-7; Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37

My dear Catholic friends, Happy New Year! Wait a minute, you might say, it is not January 1st yet! It is true that the calendar New Year has yet to come, the liturgical calendar of our faith is based upon the general movement of times and seasons, light and darkness, the creation of God redeemed by the coming of God’s Son into our world. The beginning of a new liturgical year, Advent, comes as the Northern Hemisphere enters its darkest period of long nights and short days, symbolized by our dark violet vestments. It is in the brisk darkness we await with hope the Advent coming of the Light of the World, Jesus Christ the Lord.

Our first reading today from the Prophet Isaiah delivers an honest appraisal of the human condition that finds itself in the cold darkness of sin: “O Lord why do you make us err from your ways and harden our hearts, that we fear you not” (Is.63:17)? By the time the Prophet Isaiah wrote this passage in the 6th century B.C., the Israelites had hardened their hearts against God by becoming secularized and losing faith (sound familiar?). In their willful decision to turn away from God, God removed his protecting hand from their nation and allowed their enemies to overtake them. Within the course of a few hundred years the Assyrian and Babylonian armies will conquer and scatter the 12 Tribes of Israel. In centuries of darkness, damaged and dispersed by their enemies, the Israelites long for the day when God will gather them again as one flock under one shepherd.

This desire to be reunited into one family by the promised Anointed One (Messiah) requires a decision to turn away from sin. Rejecting sin and choosing faith enables the soul to be ‘watchful and awake.’ Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel that God works in an unpredictable and unexpected way. Just as Israel was unable to predict the coming of the Messiah, we cannot predict our personal death or the end of the world. Advent teaches us to appreciate the darkness of our unknowing, our limitations, our inability to predict God. The humble acceptance of our limited condition helps us to rely less on ourselves and more upon God. As a penitential season, Advent is a great opportunity to prepare our hearts and homes for the birth of the Messiah who makes each day become brighter than the one before. In getting ready for his birth we also are getting ready to meet him at the end of our lives and at the end of time when God will complete all that he has promised. Let us take advantage of this time to examine our conscience, make a good confession -relying more on God and less on ourselves.

In the holy darkness of Advent, embracing our limitations, realizing God fulfills his promises in unpredictable and mysterious ways, we await in hope. May God find us watchful and awake as we pray: Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.

Father Brian Campbell is a priest of the Diocese of Palm Beach

The Shepherd King

Father Brian Campbell
Ez 34:11-12, 15-17; Ps 23:1-2, 2-3, 5-6; 1 COR 15:20-26, 28; Mt 25:31-46

On July 29, 1981 the world was welcomed to a very special event, rarely seen before by the public, made possible by television broadcast. With delight, millions watched the royal wedding of the potential future monarchs of England, Lady Diana and Prince Charles. Both then and now, something intrigues us about the lives of famous people, including that of royalty. We envision kings and queens, princesses and dukes as individuals coming from a well ‘pedigreed’ background and plenty of wealth. This week we celebrate the final Sunday of Liturgical Year 2020 with the Solemn Feast of Christ the King. The Kingship of Jesus is a reign of service and love. The irony of Christ the King is that God will cast down the mighty from their thrones and will lift of the lowly.

Shepherds and farmers are the last people that come to mind when we think of royal monarchs. They were perceived as filthy/unclean people during the time of Jesus – one of the lowest professions one could possibly have. In our first reading God reveals himself as the ‘shepherd’ who will care for his flock of people: “I will seek the lost…bring back the strayed…bind up the crippled…strengthen the weak…and feed them with justice” (Ezekiel 34:16). When God sent the prophet Samuel to find a new king for Israel it is interesting that Samuel was not sent to the Beverly Hills or Wall Street of ancient Jerusalem. Instead he went to an insignificant village outside of Jerusalem, to a little town called Bethlehem. 1 Samuel 17 describes how Samuel chooses a young shepherd boy named David to be the next King of Israel. As God promises to shepherd his people in our first reading – God will bring this prophesy to completion by sending his only-begotten Son into our world. Having the highest pedigree possible as God the Son, the Son of God the Father, he humbled himself to become human and live among us. Following in the footsteps of King David, Jesus will rule not by being served but in serving others as a Shepherd King.

In our Sunday Gospel from Matthew 25, King Jesus makes clear who will dwell in his everlasting kingdom. It won’t necessarily be those who make it on the front page of Time or Starz magazines! Rather it will be those who who themselves become shepherds to the outcast, to those who are condemned or are seen as insignificant. To be subjects of his royal majesty we must become like him in all things by humbling ourselves and caring for others – giving a cup of water to the thirsty, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the prisoner, welcoming the stranger, caring for the ill.

As the liturgical year of 2020 comes to an end we celebrate Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. The noise, politics, power, prestige and wealth of this world will come and go, but his Kingdom remains forever. After all that we have gone through this year let us look to our Shepherd King to guide us on the right path as we: Christ the King, Thy Kingdom Come!

Father Brian Campbell is a priest of the Diocese of Palm Beach

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