It is hard to believe that this Sunday we will begin the Church’s new year with the beautiful season of Advent. Advent, as we know is a time of preparation for the coming of Jesus at Christmas, a time of waiting, a time of expectancy, of looking forward and, above all, a time of hope. Hope is so important to all of us, particularly this year when so many of us are in lockdown because of COVID19 and when because of this, we are denied access to Mass and the Sacraments.
I am sure that in previous letters for Advent I will have mentioned the importance of hope but forgive me for drawing attention to it again. I was inspired to do so by Pope Francis because of the passionate way in which he speaks of hope in his latest encyclical, Fratelli Tutti .He invites us “to hope that speaks of something deeply rooted in every human heart, independently of our circumstances and historical conditioning. Hope speaks to us of a thirst, an aspiration, a longing for a life of fulfilment, a desire to achieve great things, things that fill our heart and lift our spirit to lofty realities like truth, goodness, justice and love. Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile” (Fratelli Tutti 55)
At the present time many people in our world feel very little hope; so many hopes have ended in disappointment and then people are afraid to hope again. However, when all hope seems to be gone and we are nearing despair, that is when the tiny seed of hope which remains within us has a chance to grow.
We can perhaps think of migrants and refugees who pay extortionate prices to cross the Mediterranean to Europe in a small boat only for the boat to capsize or run aground and the survivors end up on the island of Lampedusa in Italy. They leave their homelands full of hope for a better life, but this journey ends in suffering and sadness, even despair, with nothing they can call their own. Here they can be met with the kindness of strangers, Sisters running the UISG migrant project and greeting them all with eyes of love and hearts open to receive them and try to alleviate their suffering. Here hope is renewed. St Paul said of Abraham “In hope he believed against hope that he should become the Father of many nations” (Romans 4:18) Prayer and love lead people to renewed hope so that they are able to continue on the journey of life.
What is real hope? Ronald Rolheiser says “Hope is not based on what we hear on television on the evening news. Instead, hope looks at the facts, looks at God’s promise and then, without denying the facts or turning away from the news, lives out a vision of life based upon God’s promise, trusting that a benevolent all powerful God is still in charge of this world. Hope is a vision of life that guides itself by God’s promise, irrespective of whether the situation looks optimistic or pessimistic at any given time. Many people water down the meaning of hope and it becomes a wish, a desire, a kind of optimism. Biblical hope is far from this – hope is synonymous with salvation and it’s many blessings past, present and future. Hope is the confident expectation, the sure certainty, that what God has promised in His word is true, has happened, or will in the future, in accordance with that Word.
Hope for us, as Christians, is dynamic and active, it propels us forward to look for the blessed hope and the appearing in glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:13) God is the source of real hope and only God has the power to give it. The Psalmist says “My soul, waits in silence for God alone. My hope comes from Him “(Ps 62:5) and St Paul writing to Timothy says he is “an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope” (1Tim.1:1) St Peter instructs us “Gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1Peter 1:13) Hope is certain because God is faithful and always keeps His promises.(Deuteronomy 7:9)
So, as we spend more time with the Lord during our Advent days let us be filled with hope in His promises for our future. For as He declared through the prophet Jeremiah, “ For I know the plans I have for you, plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer.29:11) Like John the Baptist crying out in the wilderness let us cry out in the words of Peter “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. According to His great mercy, he has caused us to be born again, to a living hope through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.(1Peter 1:3)
As we light the candles each week in our Advent wreath let us do so as signs of hope. As Rolheiser says “To light an advent candle is to say in the face of all suggestions to the contrary, that God is alive and He is still the Lord of the world.” God is with us – Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, come!
With my love and prayers
Sister Maureen, FMSJ