The first preface of the Mass for the season of Advent has a beautiful phrase which truly sums up the spirit of the season. The preface reflects upon the two comings of Christ. The first is that which we anticipate during Advent as we prepare for the celebration of Christmas, when Christ took on a human nature and opened for us the way to salvation. The other is His Second Coming, when He will come in glory and majesty to bring to completion the work of salvation. The preface prays that, “we who watch for the day may inherit the great promise in which we now dare to hope.” To dare to hope reminds us that what God has given to us in His Son, Jesus Christ, goes beyond the bounds of what human reason could ever expect. Hope, daring to hope, is what Advent is all about and what transforms our lives each day.
Every one of us dares to hope for something. In our lives, so varied and diverse, we experience many joys, achievement, sufferings, and disappointments. Since just last year, each of us knows personally the sufferings that are in our lives. The death of a loved one, a personal illness or that of ones close to us, betrayal, financial insecurity, meaninglessness at times, a sense of emptiness and a whole array of human affliction are known to us in different ways. The havoc of the coronavirus this past year may have heightened these difficult experiences for some and brought new one for others. However, as Christians, we dare to hope that, not only can those sufferings be faced, but that in spite of them, we can find a peace beyond our imagination. God has become one of us. He lives with us. He touches us and we touch Him. He reminds us that our lives only have meaning when we truly encounter Him and we know the depths of His love, mercy and forgiveness. We dare to hope in God who never gives up on us even when we are willing to give up on ourselves and on Him.
Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, speaks frequently about the virtue of hope and its importance in our lives of faith. On the first Sunday of Advent this year he explained, “Advent is a continuous call to hope. It reminds us that God is present in history to lead us to its ultimate goal into its fullness, which is the Lord Jesus Christ. God is present in the history of humanity, He is the God ‘with us,’ ‘He walks beside us to support us.” In the same week, during his Wednesday audience, the Pope made further mention of the virtue of hope. He referred to the words of one of his favorite authors of the Catholic French school, Charles Péguy, “God is the first to continue to hope for our good.” Péguy made reference to this in his poem, The Portico of the Mystery of the Second Virtue.
It is quite extraordinary to conceive of God as the first one to hope, indeed, to dare to hope. Yet, that is exactly what He did after the fall of Adam and Eve. God did not reject Adam and Eve as they rejected Him, but held out the hope that they and all who turn against Him could turn back. It is in this context that God continues to dare to hope at all times for the conversion of sinners and ultimately gives us the gift of His Son, Jesus, who gives His life in order that we might have life.
When we look upon the Cross of Christ, we dare to hope in our forgiveness and salvation. When Christ looks upon us from the Cross, He dares to hope that even the most hardened of sinners will turn to Him. Pope Francis expressed this daring hope on the part of God in his Advent Wednesday audience when he said, “A sinner can remain in error for a long time, but God is patient till the end, hoping that the sinner’s heart will eventually open and change. God is like a good father, He is a father and like a good mother, He is a good mother as well: they never stop loving their child, no matter what he or she may have done wrong, always.”
As we reflect upon the virtue of hope, it is well to reflect upon the human person who embodied it perfectly, our Blessed Mother, Mary. Mary is a key figure for Advent. It is through her complete hope in the promise of God that His Son was conceived in her womb and ultimately born from her. As Mary looked upon her Son, born in Bethlehem, she did so with a daring hope. It would be that same daring hope that would bring her to the foot of the Cross in the most agonizing sufferings when she would see her Son die and all hope seemed to be destroyed. But even at the Cross, Mary would dare to hope and that hope would not be disappointed.
It is not surprising that Pope Francis added the long-standing title of “Mother of Hope” to the Litany of Mary this past June. As he expressed in one of his Wednesday audiences, “In the most difficult moments, may Mary, the Mother that Jesus gave us to all of us, always support our steps, may she always say to our hearts: ‘Arise! Look forward, look to the horizon,’ because she is the Mother of hope.” Charles Péguy also refers to Mary in his poem on hope, so beloved by the Pope, as the one in whom hope is personified.
During this Advent season, as we dare to hope in God and His promise, as God dares to hope in us, may we also dare to hope in Mary. Because of her Assumption into heaven, she is our hope that we can come into heaven as she did. She always looks with love on all who seek her help. She joins us to her Son through her being the means of His Incarnation in which God dared to hope in us and bring us to Him.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
December 11, 2020