In the First Reading, the prophet reports the command of the Lord: “Comfort, give comfort to my people says your God!” In the sorrows of life, who does not long for comfort? Who would not melt with gratitude at the tender comfort of God?
Yet what is comfort?
When we want it, sometimes what we want is just what the good shepherd gives his lost sheep. We don’t want to walk along the road of our life to the Lord. We want God to carry us.
But a child that is carried all the time will never learn to walk, to leap and run. That child, weak enough already to be carried, will get only weaker as the carrying goes on.
And comfort isn’t a matter of giving weakness. It’s a matter of giving strength—strength for walking, even over very rough roads.
In fact, the “-fort” in “comfort” comes from the Latin word for “strong.” The “com-” in “comfort” is from the Latin word for “with.” To give comfort to someone is to lend him some of your strength. He is more able to stand on his own feet and walk because you are with him.
But what is the comfort of God? Where is it? How do we find it?
The Gospel says that Christ baptizes his own with the Holy Spirit. Because of this baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to dwell within each person who comes to Christ.
And so any one who comes to Christ and receives his baptism will not walk the wild and rocky road of life alone. God is so much with him that, in the person of the Holy Spirit, God is within him. If God is for us, even within us, who can be against us? This is strength indeed.
And so no wonder that the other name for the Holy Spirit is “the Comforter.”
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University