Saint Mary of the Angels homilies and reflections

Homily. December 7, 2008. Comfort my People. Ken Hughes, SJ (at parish retreat)

Homily December 7, 2008.  Comfort my people.  (At parish retreat)

You have been reflecting on the word, “comfort.”


The word “comfort” means “to soothe,”  “to console,”  “to reassure.”

But, the original meaning from the Latin, fortis, ( fortify, fortitude) means “to strengthen.”  Both meanings are important:  to soothe and to strengthen.


Who says those words, “Comfort, O comfort my people?”

And to whom does he say them?


It is God who speaks.

It is to the angels God speaks those words.


God’s people of Israel have been in exile for forty years. They have been wounded for a long time.  God wants his angels to soothe them, to soothe their wounds.


But, now the people have to make the long journey home and rebuild their city.  And so, God wants his angels to strengthen them.


But God also wants to meet them on their journey and so a voice cries out to the angels:

“Prepare the way of the Lord!”

“Make straight … a highway for God!”

“Go up on a high mountain!”

“Cry out at the top of your voice: … ‘Here is your God!  Here comes with power the Lord God.”


Because God has come to meet his people, the community of hurt becomes a community of hope.

Advent, for us, is also moving from hurt to hope.


For some time now, we have carried national wounds of war, disgrace, isolation.

For some time now, we have carried religious wounds of church scandal and church closings.

For some time now, we have carried local wounds of violence, betrayal, shame.

And each of us has personal wounds of family death or discord, ill health, insecurity, overwork, loneliness.


Sometimes, we, too, can feel like we are in exile, -- disconnected from God, disconnected from one another, disconnected from ourselves.


What in my life needs soothing?

In what do I need strengthening?


Interestingly, even though God’s home at the time of John the Baptist was in the Temple in Jerusalem, people thronged to the desert because they hungered and thirsted for something more, for a soothing and strengthening which they were not receiving at home.  They found both in the words of John in which he proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and promised the One who would come to baptize with the Holy Spirit.


Even though God’s home for the St. Mary of the Angel Community is back in Roxbury, we come to the woods at Campion because we, too, hunger and thirst for something more, something that only God can give.


When God said to his angels, “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,” more accurately, God was saying, “Speak to her heart.”  When some word or action of God touches our heart, then, we have hope.  We know that our God has reached us, come to us.


On the retreat which just ended yesterday at Gloucester, one man had a double desire:  he wanted to finish grieving his brother who had died over a year ago, (he felt stuck in his grieving), and he wanted affirmation from God.   One morning, while sitting in the chapel and looking at the sun through the frost covered window, he wondered if God ever wept the death of his brother.  At that point, the sun began to melt the frost and tears trickled down the window pane.   A coincidence?  Yes, but God is always in coincidences!  He finally could let go.  A few nights later, an aunt, who had died long ago and had been pretty much forgotten, appeared in a dream and said to him, “John, You’re all right!”  Was God affirming him?


Both his desires were met.  Desert, woods, ocean, the season of Advent itself, are sacred places for meeting our God.


What we celebrate during Advent is our yearning for God and God’s yearning for us, a yearning that smoothes out the mountains of our sins and the valleys of our fears, a yearning that bridges the gap between divine and human and brings God to birth among us.


May we go forth on our journey with God both soothed and strengthened 

by our prayer in silence,

by our companionship through sharing,

by our Lord’s body and blood, which we are about to receive.





                                                                    Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ

                                                                    Cambridge, MA.

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