Category Archives: Isaiah

A word to rouse them

…that I may know how to speak to the weary
a word that may rouse them.
Isaiah 50: 4 (NAB) 

How many people are weary, worn down, discouraged?

How many need a word to encourage them, to help them come out of the darkness?

I see this around me here in Honduras.

Young people who see little future, because of low wages or no work. A young man lamenting that his common law wife left him and took their child. A young man recalling the death of his three month old last June. A woman who mourns the death of a son and grandson killed last year. Another woman who lost her husband last year to heart disease. Families struggling with relatives suffering cancer.

What am I to do?

Sometimes I do not have a word to say to them. At times I only have a listening ear.

But we need the Servant of the Lord who knows the word that will give us courage in the face of the pains and suffering around us.

Sometimes we want someone who will rescue us – a Superman who will make all things right, a King who will come with his cavalry to rescue us at the last moment.

But what do we have?DSC00492

Jesus, seated on a donkey.

A God made flesh who knows how to suffer, who gives himself as a servant, washing our feet – and letting his feet be washed.

A God who speaks with His love and mercy, with his solidarity with us.

A God who loves until death – so that we might have hope.

A God who conquers death, not by tearing himself down from the cross, but by rising on the third day.

A God of hope.

Dreaming the dreams of God

I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth…
Isaiah 65: 17

 The vision of a new creation, in Isaiah 65: 17-25 and in Revelation 21, has inspired me for many years.

We need a vision of newness, of something that is a real change, of something that shakes up our world. We need to dream, to imagine the world as God does.

I create Jerusalem to be a joy…
Isaiah 65: 18

 But Jerusalem today is not a joy – especially the Palestinians. They and the Israelis often live in mutual fear and suspicion.

No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there,
or the sound of crying…
Isaiah 65: 19

 How many are wailing – not just weeping – throughout the world, because of children killed by violence or by preventable diseases?

They shall live in the houses they build,
and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.
Isaiah 65: 21

 How many are without homes, even in the US? How many have lost their homes because of war or disasters?

But the prophet offers us hope.

But it is a hope that demands our response, our openness to the new world God is creating.

For God listens to us and knows our inmost longings.

Before they call, I will answer;
while they are yet speaking, I will hear.
Isaiah 65: 24

 But do we really long for something new? Do we really have hope? Or are we stuck in the past, in our memories of failures?

Do we really want new heavens and a new earth? Do we ask God for that new creation?

Do we really want the peaceable kingdom promised at the end of the chapter

The wolf and the lamb shall pasture together,
and the lion shall eat hay like the ox…
None shall harm or destroy on my holy mountain,
says the Lord.
Isaiah 65:25

 Or do we still want to rely on our weapons of war – or our weapons of self-aggrandizement and self-justification?

Do we let ourselves dream the dreams of God?

Comfort my people

Yesterday I received the news that a dear friend, whom I’ve known for about 30 years, has terminal cancer.

I last saw her in June when I went to Dubuque for the ordination of two men I knew when they were Iowa State students. I stayed with her and we got many chances to talk and share.

I called someone here in Honduras who is also a friend of Mary’s. As I told her the news tears came to my eyes and I got choked up.

Yesterday, I also finished spending two days with the Dulce Nombre parish assembly, which was actually a very hope-filled experience. We evaluated the year and made plans for next year. I’ll have a lot of work.

This morning, as I read the first reading from Isaiah (40: 1-5, 9-11), I felt sustained in the desert of my distress about Mary.

Comfort, give comfort to my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…

Like a shepherd he feeds his flock;
in his arms he gathers the lambs,
carrying them in his bosom…

 The image of the Lord comforting us, carrying us in his arms, gives me hope – not for a miraculous cure, though I am praying to God for a cure (through the intercession of Archbishop Romero).

No, the reading from Isaiah gives me hope that God is there sustaining us, opening roads where there are none, making paths straight where they curve, providing us with light in the midst of darkness.

So this Advent will be different in one sense – the sadness at the illness of my friend makes the sadness of the world very personal for me.

But Advent will also be a time to reconnect with the sorrow and pain of those around me here in Honduras – especially when I move out to the countryside within two weeks.

In many ways we are always surrounded by the sorrows and the pain of the world and of our friends; but God provides us with signs of hope, signs that life conquers death and suffering – not in an easy way, but in the difficult ways of solidarity and conversion, which will let the light of God appear in our world.

Class warfare

…the Lord is an eternal Rock.
He humbles those in high places,
and the lofty city he brings down;
He tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust.
It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor.
Isaiah 26: 4-6 

 One of the critiques of liberation theology, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, was that it promoted class warfare.

I don’t think the critique was valid for all forms of liberation theology.

But today’s lectionary reading from Isaiah might lead one to think that Isaiah also promoted a type of class warfare: “The lofty city is trampled underfoot… by the footsteps of the poor.”

Class is real; inequalities and discrimination based on class are real.

That is apparent here in Honduras, where a few extended families control much of the wealth – in terms of land, businesses, and economic power. They also control most of the media. The poor are discriminated against in many ways, looked down upon by some of those with power and wealth.

I think this is not just the case here and in other countries of the two-thirds world. There are class differences in the US, often combined with racism.

What does the Lord require here?

Those of us with privileges of class should learn to listen to the poor. I should try to accompany them in their struggles for justice and equality.

That means a real conversion of our hearts.

Will I let the poor, by their continuing presence in our world, critique my affluence, my failure to open my heart and my wallet to them?

Will I amass treasures and build walls to secure my possessions?

Or will I open my heart, so that the footsteps of the poor will lead me to live as a sign of the Kingdom of God – a kingdom of justice, solidarity, and peace?


The Book of Lamentations was for many years central to Vigils of the Liturgy of Hours for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. The sadness of the prophet Jeremiah over the destruction of Jerusalem were connected with the Passion and Death of Jesus.

There are many beautiful, haunting musical renditions of the Lamentations, which I will be listening to during the next few days.

This year Holy Week feels more like a time of lamentation than I’ve felt in many years. Some of this is personal, but much is related to the reality the poor face here in Honduras.

So, this morning, reading Jeremiah in the Vigils reading from Benedictine Daily Prayer I was moved by these words of Jeremiah 8: 21-22 (NRSV translation):

For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt.
I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then has the health of my poor people
not been restored?

Jeremiah is writing in the context of the destruction of Jerusalem that arose as a result of the sinfulness of the people, but still his deep grief speaks to me in a situation where, all too often, the poor and innocent suffer.

But I don’t feel overcome in the face of the pain. Despite the grief, I find a deep peace within me.

More than anything else, I feel the challenge of the first line of today’s reading from the third Servant Song of Isaiah 50:4 (NAB translation):

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.

I pray that I may be a presence with the people the next three days that will help them experience the hope of the Risen Lord, in the midst of our grief.


A word of hope

In the middle of Lent the Church offers in today’s first reading, Isaiah 65: 17-21, a message of hope:  “I am about to create a new heaven and a new earth.” This seems so out of place in Lent.

But it is a message I needed to hear.

Yesterday, coming back from San Agustín with Padre German, we encountered cars stopped on the dirt road outside Caleras.

A man had been killed and his body lay in the middle of the road, a puddle of blood by his neck.

The police were there, keeping people away, and waiting for the fiscal – the public prosecutor – to come and verify the facts of the death.

We approached and looked on the dead man and then left to get to town by another route.

I was left with a great sadness – another person killed, another family grieving.

But Isaiah promises that in the new Jerusalem, “No longer shall be heard the sound of weeping or the cry of distress.”

That is the promise I needed to hear. A promise – but also a task for us here, and everywhere in the world where there is death and pain and suffering: to offer a word of hope.


Swords into plowshares

“They shall beat their swords into ploughs.”
Isaiah 2: 4


I have been blessed not to see much violence – despite living for a short time in El Salvador during the civil war, despite spending two weeks in Northern Ireland in the time of the troubles, despite making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and visiting in both Palestine and Israel, despite living in the country that has the highest murder rate in the world.

A few months ago I saw one side of the violence here when I transported a woman who had been attacked by her husband with a machete. About two weeks ago, a person I know was shot at.

And so the promise of Isaiah touches me deeply. It seems so outrageous, so utopian – both beautiful and so out of place. But I hope.

It is the hope of so many people here in Honduras  – not just the end of violence but the chance to grow food on one’s own land.

But the candidate who, according to the electoral tribunal got the most votes, had promised, in the face of violence: “I will do whatever has to be done.”

But St. Paul (Roman 13:13) warns us to put aside the works of darkness, which include “strife and jealousy” – or, as another translation puts it, “quarreling and jealousy.”

What does this entail?

I think we can learn a lot from Dorothy Day, who wrote this in an editorial in the September 1938 Catholic Worker:

“Today the whole world is in the midst of a revolution. We are living through it now – all of us. History will record this time as a time of world revolution. And frankly, we are calling for Saints…. We must prepare now for martyrdom — otherwise we will not be ready. Who of us if … attacked now would not react quickly and humanly against such attack? Would we love our brother [or sister] who strikes us? Of all at The Catholic Worker how many would not instinctively defend [themselves] with any forceful means in [their] power? We must prepare. We must prepare now. There must be a disarmament of the heart.”

If we want peace, we need that disarmament of the heart – not only in others and in political leaders, but first of all in ourselves.

And so, this Advent will be for me a war to disarm my heart, to open myself to love for all, to putting aside all that keeps me from loving God and my poorest brothers and sisters.

Lord, disarm my heart.


The photo is a wall near the United Nations in New York City with the text of Isaiah 2.