Shortly after being elected in 2013, Pope Francis received news about an overcrowded boat of refugees that capsized off the North African coast.

Though hundreds were on board, only eight initially survived the shipwreck by clinging to a fishing net in the middle of the Mediterranean. But when fishermen saw them pleading for their lives, they cut their net and sent them to die in the ocean depths.

Pope Francis was so moved by this story that he chose to make his first pastoral visit to the small Italian island of Lampedusa, which has become a symbol of the refugee crisis and all those drowning in the sea of human indifference. When he arrived, he celebrated Mass near the harbor and used a chalice hewn from driftwood of downed refugee vessels.

From the dead wood of the sea, Pope Francis had the courage to proclaim the God of love by lifting up the sacrament of life. Today’s first reading speaks about a shoot sprouting from the stump of Jesse, of a new bud blossoming from the dead wood.

The stump is another way of speaking about the house of David, which had been cut down by the Babylonians, who forced the people of Israel to live as migrants and exiles in a foreign land. Both Pope Francis and Isaiah give testimony to the radical nature of biblical faith; to dare to believe in God’s power to regenerate life, even and especially in places where the world sees only death.

Fr. Andrew, T.O.R.