In his wonderful book, Let Us Dream, Pope Francis reflects on how we should face the future in a post-pandemic world. One lesson to take with us, the Pope suggests, is the vital role that “healers” play. He points to the life-giving work of first responders, health care workers, caregivers, and all those who risked their lives to bring to others the essential services they needed to stay alive.
He contrasts this sort of response to human need with those who whom he describes as being afflicted with “isolated consciences,” those who focus on concerns that have little to do with the everyday needs and anxieties of ordinary people. Often these are religious leaders who fret about the finer points of doctrine or insist on the rigors of moral rules, but who have insulated themselves from the pain and struggles that most people face every day.
The Pope has famously declared that the church should be something of a “field hospital,” caring for the desperately wounded. The urgent mission is to care for peoples’ wounds. You don’t ask a seriously wounded person first about their blood sugar levels; that comes later after you have saved their lives.
I thought of the Pope’s urgent message in the light of the Scripture readings for today. The first reading is from the prophet Isaiah, and it dreams of a future where the Lord prepares a great banquet for all peoples, where death is destroyed, and God “will wipe away the tears from all faces” The prophet sees God as a healing and consoling God. This passage is often read at funerals, a Word of God that brings comfort and healing.
The Responsorial Psalm 23 moves with a similar reconciling spirit: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.”
And the gospel selection from Matthew portrays Jesus as a great healer and nourisher of the people. In a scene unique to Matthew, Jesus ascends a mountain and the crowds of the “lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute” come to him, and “he cured them all.” The people who witness this scene of healing “glorify the God of Israel.”
To this scene Matthew appends the story of the feeding of the multitude. Jesus is prompted to feed the crowds because: “My heart is moved with pity… for they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat.”
Advent invites us to think more deeply about our lives as Christians. The Scriptures we hear at today’s Eucharist and the words and example of faithful followers of Jesus remind us that, above all, we are to bring healing and reconciliation into our fractured world.
Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. is President Emeritus and Professor of New Testament at Catholic Theological Union. He lives at the Passionist residence in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.