Happy Hope

Second Sunday of Advent (A)

How do you feel when you hear of wars and calamities in other countries? What do you do when your family gets in trouble because of financial crisis? What would you do when your spouse or children or parents fall into vices or get in trouble with the law? When you fall prey to defrauders and cheats, what kind of hope does it bring? These and many others are situations that we face daily, and many times we think they are irremediable.

In his encyclical, “Spe Salvi” (In Hope We Are Saved), published on Nov. 30, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI writes that we can be saved only in hope in the God who can give hope. He writes: “The Ephesians, before their encounter with Christ, were without hope because they were “without God in the world”. To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We, who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. The example of a saint of our time can to some degree help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with this God for the first time. I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869…. in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani…. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her…. What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope. . .Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”. On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion…. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people. The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.”

The first reading tells us of hope as it brought hope to the people of God. “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom” (Is 11:1). The promised Hope would live with them and they would receive the Spirit of God, “a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD” (Is 11:2-3).

Hope, the hope that saves, then, can only come when the Spirit of God is at work in us; and only with this Spirit can salvation come to us. Hope is not ours to keep, but ours to give. Anything that we do, and especially whoever we are, should radiate the hope of Jesus, for He is this hope that we have and that we have to share with others.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, (and) make straight His paths” (Mt 3:3) by receiving the Sacraments often, especially the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation; by praying (pray the rosary; pray the scriptures; pray with your family; pray for the needs of other people and for peace); and by serving others cheerfully (you will have a good and healthy heart). Then, you will produce fruits of holiness as evidence of your repentance.

Let us make this Advent a time of happy hope. Let the Eucharist be a celebration of the advent of Jesus to bring the joy of His coming to our families, our work and our leisure; and let His peace reign in our hearts for the life of the world, for Jesus waits for us more that we wait for Him.



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