‘Let it begin with me’

The Advent readings are, for me, among the most beautiful of the entire year.  They speak of healing, hope, promise, prosperity, peace and unity. 

Among my favorites is the reading from Isaiah 29: “But a very little while, and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard, and the orchard is regarded as a forest! On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; and out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see.”

Or again from Isaiah the words: “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” The words of Isaiah have been immortalized so well in the famous “Messiah” music program where you can almost hear the music as the words from this prophet are read.

Isaiah speaks of peace when he writes: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.”

Perhaps the one reading that is most familiar and depicted in many Christmas cards is from Isaiah chapter 11. It speaks of life with the Messiah. How the Spirit of the Lord will be upon Him: “A Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and strength, a Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.” Isaiah then tells us how life will be so peaceful. He states: “Then the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox.  The baby shall play by the cobra’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.”

I begin my day listening to these readings at Mass.  When I return to the rectory and read the morning newspaper, the world of Isaiah does not exist.  This promise of peace has not been fulfilled.

Ferguson, Mo. looms large in the media.  The tension is exacerbated by constant media attention to the incident there and the need to foster more violence, more demonstrations. And lest we think this is far from affecting us, just last week, after morning Mass, one of the attendees said to me, “Please pray for my son, he is a police officer in Ferguson.”

Violence to a person to the extent he could not breathe becomes a rallying cry from the athletic stadiums to the local news. Release of torture tactics used by our government fill the pages of the news and the print media.

Even in the Church we hear of critics of Pope Francis’ desire for open discussion on matters of family life in the meeting held last year in Rome. He said to those gathered, be honest, don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, but speak openly and honestly. That did not sit well with many and much ink was spilled by those who did not agree with those who spoke honestly and openly.

Recently, Pope Francis stated in a general audience on December 10: “The synod is not a parliament, but a protected space where the Holy Spirit can work. This means there was no clash between factions, but a discussion between bishops.” He went on to say that all synod fathers were able to speak and everyone listened.  No one questioned, he noted, the fundamental truths of the Sacrament of Marriage; the indissolubility, unity, loyalty and openness to life.

At Christmas we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace. We pray for peace on earth. The Advent readings prepare us for peace and the coming of the Messiah Who would bring peace.

That peace remains elusive in our world, our country and our Church.

Perhaps our Christmas prayer and our Christmas gift to others will be to be a peace-maker. We cannot solve the problems of the Middle East, our country, or the Church. But we can be a person whose words and actions are peaceful. We all know we can use words that are hurtful or consoling, angry or peaceable, revengeful or forgiving. Our actions correspond as well to our thoughts.

In the words of a popular Church song, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

The prayer attributed to St. Francis should be our prayer for this season and the coming year: 

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.”

Be assured of my prayers for each of you as I celebrate Christmas Mass. 

My prayer will be that you have a blessed Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year.

Anchor columnist Msgr. Oliveira is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford and director of the diocesan Propagation of the Faith and Permanent Diaconate offices.

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