By Kathy Gallo
Connecting Faith and Life
Make straight a highway
The Advent readings are always powerful, and they are especially so during this particular experience of isolation, physical distancing and quarantining. In the readings for the second week of Advent, the prophet Isaiah cries out, “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be lifted up, every mountain and hill made low; the rugged land shall be a plain, the rough country, a broad valley. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5).
Right before this invocation to prepare the way of the Lord, Isaiah directs the listener to “Comfort, give comfort to my people,” and our hearts respond with desire for this comfort and the ability to give comfort. How do we prepare the way of the Lord in this current wasteland where there is such suffering and hurt? How do we live in this present moment and be hope for one another? Many of us will not be gathering with family at Christmas and have not seen family for many months. There are so many who are suffering from depression and loneliness during this difficult time. How do we give comfort?
Have you ever been homesick? My first bout of homesickness was when I was around 9 or 10. My aunt sent me and my two favorite cousins to camp for two weeks – Camp Stella Maris, “Star of the Sea,” north of Boston in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was a wonderful place. The focus was on swimming (my great love). It had a Catholic environment, lots of kids to interact with, many great crafts … and I was miserable. For the first two days, I experienced an ache in my heart I have never forgotten. I couldn’t smile and was not able to enjoy anything or anyone. In thinking about that time, I can feel that pain of homesickness. It reminds me of that great song recorded by Allan Sherman, “Camp Granada.” It begins:
“Hello Muddah, hello Fadda, here I am at Camp Grenada
“Camp is very entertaining and they say we'll have some fun if it stops raining”
After many stanzas of exaggerated horrible camp experiences the song ends:
“Wait a minute, it's stopped hailing, Guys are swimming, guys are sailing
“Playing baseball, gee that's bettah, Muddah, Faddah kindly disregard this letter
I have been homesick many times throughout my life. I have always lived far away from home or family. But I have never had to worry about losing my home, being evicted or not being able to pay the rent. I have never had to worry about losing a job, food insecurity, education for my children or finding a shelter for my family to live in. These are the very real worries of our brothers and sisters today.
Isaiah’s challenge to give comfort dates to the time of the Babylonian exile. The Israelites never forgot this experience of being away from all that is familiar, being far from home, being homesick. Isaiah challenges us to give comfort to those in search of home.
A straight highway
Isaiah speaks to the homesick heart, to the exiled and lonely. How can we make a straight path to God in such uncertainty? The Scriptures remind us that Jesus is the straight highway, Jesus is the Way. The only way we can make a straight path is through and with Jesus.
Jesus demonstrates how to be comfort to others. Before we give comfort, we are called to “put on Christ” – to be the Body of Christ for others. At a time when we cannot always receive the Eucharist physically, we can still be Eucharistic comfort and healing for others. God has built the highway for us over the rough country. Jesus is the highway. And we are called to be that highway and home for others.