First Sunday of Advent: Hope will see us through
Posted: Wed, 25 Nov 2020 16:23
As we begin Advent, Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB welcomes us to the season of hope, and a new beginning.
I wish you all a very happy and blessed new year; I know that 2020 has been a hard year but I'm not wishing this year away—honestly! The new Church year kicks in on this day, so we move from reflecting on the gospel of Matthew (Year A) to begin reflecting on the gospel of Mark (Year B). I pray that this year of reflecting and prayer together will bring healing and a vaccine for COVID-19; I pray that Advent 2021 will find us in a much better space.
Traditionally, we light the first candle on the wreath as we begin this season of HOPE. This Advent, more than ever in these modern times, we need light to see us through the darkness; we need the grace of hope to see us through. Hope is that quality that enables us to offer a way through the craziness of this global pandemic. It reminds us that we have to fully enter the trauma, even experience the pain, if we are going to fully bring the light of Christ into those situations of pain, mistrust, anger and grief that these months have put us through. We do not sit on the sidelines, we CHOOSE to be involved, as Pope Francis reminds us:
To speak of hope to those who are desperate, it is essential to share their desperation. To dry the tears from the faces of those who are suffering, it is necessary to join our tears with theirs.
Pope Francis, 4 January 2017
Advent is our opportunity to prepare fully for the gift of a God who also CHOOSES to be involved in the life of our world; a God who shares the desperation, tears and suffering of humanity. This message is one that we need to share with our families and friends, especially this year, when so many of the fun activities we associate with Advent will need to be cancelled. Sadly, this will probably not be the season for the work's party, the visit to Santa, or even the trail around crowded department stores, looking for that unique gift. But instead, I hope that you will remember that Advent 2020 gave you the gift of TIME—time that you can usefully spend on those dear to you. Time that you can use to deepen your relationship with God. Advent is a journey, a pilgrimage, a Camino to Christmas—each day of this season will offer us an opportunity to reflect, pray and do something positive for the good of others.
You may have the traditional version of the Advent Calendar in your home; each day you open a window and take a sweet treat. Why not begin a new tradition this year? Make the choice to do something positive on each day as you journey through Advent. We have devised a simple 'Camino through Advent' that you may wish to join in—find out how to follow it HERE. Advent has always been a happy time for most people, even in difficult times, because there is something about Christmas and the coming of the Messiah and the coming of the Lord ... One of the greatest gifts we can bring to this suffering world in 2020 is to still bring that happiness and hope to those we meet. In many ways, we need to go 'over the top' to ensure that those we love will not miss out this year.
God will fulfil his promise in the most amazing of ways: in a stable, a little child, a poor young teenage mother, and her gravely worried husband into whose care God had placed this most precious twosome. Advent is really a time for hope. It is a time when we put aside major worries in our life and realise that God is with us. Pope Benedict wrote his second encyclical on hope, 'Spe Salvi', a beautiful document. He says for a Christian to have hope means to know that we are definitely loved, and that, whatever happens to us, we are awaited by love. You can read Spe Salvi on the Vatican website here.
In the gospel today, we are invited to 'stay awake' and be ready for the coming of the Messiah—Mark is helping his community of faith. The early Church experienced the pain of persecution and even death for following Christ. Mark is helping his friends to face the reality of their situation. Today, you are not only being invited to be aware of the crisis we are facing, but also to do what you can help others who share the journey with you. We are to be "alert" and "watchful." That means we are to be focused on the Lord. It is all too easy to get distracted. There are hundreds of things pulling us in different directions, especially this time of year, so we can easily lose focus of what's most important: our hopeful faith. During Advent, we are called to focus on our relationship with God and others.
In the horrors of war, Charles Péguy wrote a poem that is seen to reflect his faith even in the midst of so much evil. Graham Greene used his reflection as an introduction to his novel 'The Heart of the Matter':
The sinner is at the very heart of Christianity. Nobody is so competent as the sinner in matters of Christianity
Charles Péguy, Un Nouveau Théologien, 1911
Péguy died on the battlefield in the First World War, but he left this beautiful poem. In the midst of the extreme horror of a brutal global conflict, he wants to offer a sense of hope. More than ever in Advent 2020, we need to offer this sense of hope too.
I am, says God, master of the three virtues: Faith, Charity and Hope.
Faith is like a faithful wife.
Charity is the ardent mother.
But Hope is a little girl.
I am, says God, the master of virtues.
Faith is she who remains steadfast through centuries and centuries.
Love is she who gives herself during centuries and centuries.
But my little Hope is she who rises every morning.
I am, says God, the Lord of virtues.
Faith is she who remains firm and strong.
Charity is she who unbends during centuries and centuries.
But my little Hope is she who every morning wishes me good day.
Charles Péguy, 'The Mystery of the Holy Innocents', 1912 (Translation by Pansy Pakenham 1956)
And this is what it means to prepare for Christmas: to help each other as we go through these pandemic times, but with hope in our hearts. This is a hope that feeds the deep faith that we share; we commit ourselves to reaching out in love, in a caring compassion. In this Advent of 2020, we do all this with a joyful, light heart, because 'Hope' is that little girl who gets up every morning and wishes us "good day!"