“Tis the Season to be Hopeful”
Last year at this time I was preaching at the all-school Mass during the first week of Advent, explaining to our youngsters how Advent is a two-part season of hope: the First Coming and Second Coming of Christ. The approach was based on the following text from the Universal Norms for the Liturgical Year:
Advent has a two-fold character, for it is a preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time.
So, I emphasized that in Advent we remember the First Coming of Jesus as a baby, the long awaited Messiah and hope of Israel, and how we also stir into flame the hope for the Second Coming of Jesus at the end of time. Explaining things further, and convinced that I was making a good connection with the kids, I asked a question to see if they understood these two parts of Advent, “And what is our hope then?”
One of the Kindergartners raised his hand and said, “I sure hope Santa’s gonna come this year!”
“Don’t worry,” I said, “I’m pretty sure he’s going to make it.”
We all hope for things in this world, and as we grow those hopes tend to change. The High School graduate hopes to get into a good college. The newlywed couple hopes for a healthy new family. Beyond ourselves, we hope for peace in war torn regions of the world. When we are sick, we hope for health, while the homeless and hungry hope for food.
Sometimes our hopes in this world go unrealized. Job loss, the death of a loved one, or our children who abandon the faith. Clearly, our hopes can be met with disappointment and loss. But, perhaps these temporal hopes, unpredictable as they may be, are but a foreshadowing of the noblest and unshakeable promise and hope of all: the hope of sharing in the glory of God. As St Paul wrote to the Colossians, “…God has chosen to make known…the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Colossians 1:27
In True Leadership, published by the Habiger Institute for Leadership, we read:
“Hope is the sure confidence that, despite whatever darkness or difficulty may come upon us, despite the grim look of the present moment, we will arrive at our destination and our deepest desires will find fulfillment in God.”
Marcia and I recently viewed the Ignatius Press documentary Road of Hope, The Spiritual Journey of (now venerable) Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan. As a Bishop, Van Thuan lived through the Communist takeover of Viet Nam, and was a political prisoner of the Communist regime for thirteen years – nine of which were spent in solitary confinement, which he later described as, “the agonizing pain of isolation and abandonment.” His faith sustained him through those years, as he celebrated Mass in secret with three drops of wine and a drop of water in the ‘altar’ of the palm of his hand, and with a host that was smuggled in by his faithful, hidden in a flashlight. His spiritual writings, which were recorded on the back of old calendars, have been collected and published as, The Road of Hope, A Gospel From Prison. One of his most famous quotes is: “There is only one failure: not to hope in God. Hope in God and you will not be disappointed.”
And so, be encouraged! Lift up your heads! Jesus encourages us in the Gospel today to “Stay awake! and Be prepared! For we do not know the day our Lord will come.” But we do know that one day the Lord will indeed come, and he will be the fulfillment of all hope and desire.
Come Lord Jesus!
Biographical Note: Bishop Van Thuan was released by the Communists in 1988, and went to Rome in 1991. In 2001 he was elevated to Cardinal Deacon of Santa Maria della Scala by St John Paul II. He died of cancer in a clinic in Rome, Italy, on 16 September 2002, at the age of 74.