By Father Patrick Longalong
If we are asked, “Who is the greatest person born on earth?” we might naturally say, “Jesus Christ, of course!” But in this season of Advent Jesus teaches us to look at greatness in a different way. If you were to ask Jesus the same question, you might be shocked how he would respond. In fact, he first said, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
Several years ago, I was on my way to the Philippine Consulate to attend one of our Christmas Novena events but arrived too early. So I decided to wait at the nearby coffee shop. As soon as I found a nice spot to sit and read, the door swung open hitting my face with the cold air coming from outside. I was stunned to see a barefooted man dressed in a religious outfit made of burlap.
My mind raced in an attempt to make sense of the situation but the man was too quick and already approached my table. He sat in front of me, took out a map and asked for the direction of Washington Square Park. I gave him instructions to get to the place he was asking about. He didn’t know that I was a priest since I had my scarf wrapped around my neck concealing my collar.
He paused for a little bit to look at me and said, “I came all the way from Italy to bring the message of hope to the people of this city. To remind them to live a simple life in order to free them from much worry and anxiety. Only in this way will they experience the presence of God that is always with us.” He introduced himself as Massimo Coppo and even gave me a book that he wrote.
I asked him where he was staying. He said that there was a homeless shelter on 34th Street. He was going to be there for a few days until he finished his work of reminding New Yorkers that God loves all of us. Our brief encounter fascinated me and left an imprint in my memory. The short conversation I had with Massimo surfaced into my mind a lesson I received from a priest who prepared me for my First Communion. He said to remember the wisdom of St. Vincent de Paul who taught us to live in simplicity and humility.
Isn’t this also the life that St. John the Baptist lived? He was very clear about his status: “After me is coming someone who is more powerful than me, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals” (Mk 1:7). He lived a life devoid of excess and preached about conversion of hearts in order to make a fitting dwelling place for the coming of the Messiah.
We are encouraged this week to see things in a different way. It challenges us to empty ourselves like Jesus did so we might be able to empathize with the suffering of others. In doing so, we are able to connect and journey with them while giving us the opportunity to lift their gaze up to the one who can give us hope. I believe this is what the first reading is telling us; to give comfort to God’s people. We have to “speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end…”
The health crisis has forced all of us to change the way we do things and disrupted even the way we pray. We have been asked many times to look at things in a different way. It is not easy. In the past few months, I saw how many of our seniors struggled to make adjustments during the time I spent teaching them how to use their smart phone or iPad in order to make a face-to-face call to their family or nextdoor neighbor.
We know that this pandemic will eventually end someday. But for now, let us be encouraged in the final words of our second reading this weekend. “Since you await these things, be eager to be found without spot or blemish before Him, at peace.”
Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85:9-10-11-12, 13-14
2 Peter 3:8-14
Father Longalong is the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, Queens Village, and coordinator of the Ministry to Filipino Immigrants.