By Bishop James Conley
“Advent,” says Pope Francis, “is a journey toward the horizon of hope.”
The hope of Advent, the pope says, “does not disappoint because it is founded on the Word of God. A hope that does not disappoint, simply because the Lord never disappoints! He is faithful!”
Last Sunday, as we began the holy season of Advent, and the Church’s new year, we began in the hope of the Lord. In many traditions, each of the candles of the Advent wreath represent a virtue, and an aspect of our preparation for Christ: hope, peace, joy, and love. We begin Advent, as we light the first candle of the holy season, by asking the Lord to enflame us with hope.
The hope of Advent is not hope that Jesus will come back into the world at Christmas. Jesus did come into the world, two thousand years ago—God-made-man, Word made flesh, in Bethlehem. This is a historical fact. Hope is rooted in history, but hope is also about our present, and our future.
Hope is the knowledge that our lives have meaning—that each day that we live matters, and indeed, that we matter, because we are beloved by God and because he has an eternal plan for our lives.
“To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope,” Pope Benedict XVI taught in his encyclical Spe salvi. Hope is knowing the Lord, believing in his promises, and trusting that he loves us, transforms us, and sanctifies us.
Hope gives us the truest “basis” for our existence, Pope Benedict taught, “a basis that abides, that no one can take away.”
Hope gives us freedom to live for what really matters. “The one who has hope lives differently,” Pope Benedict wrote. “The one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”
Through hope, we understand that our joys and consolations are a foretaste of what God promises us in heaven, and our sorrows and sufferings can be unified to Christ on the cross, for our salvation, and the salvation of the world. Through hope, we know that God’s love for us gives the deepest meaning and purpose to our existence—that how we live in this world can bring us into eternal happiness with God, no matter what happens to us.
In hope, we know that this world is fleeting, and that real and lasting joy awaits in the Lord’s promise of our salvation.
During Advent, we are particularly blessed by the witness of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Hope. On December 8 we honor her Immaculate Conception, and on December 12 we remember her appearance as Our Lady of Guadalupe, to the young St. Juan Diego in Mexico nearly 500 years ago.
Pope Benedict asked: “Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us? With her ‘yes’ she opened the door of our world to God himself; she became the living Ark of the Covenant, in whom God took flesh, became one of us, and pitched his tent among us.”
In a special way, the Blessed Mother reveals hope to us during the holy season of Advent. Meditating on the joyful mysteries of the rosary, especially in our families, gives us witness to that hope. At the annunciation and visitation, she joyfully expected the Lord. At his birth, he came into the world. At his presentation, and as a child in the temple, he gave a foretaste of the hope that he would give the entire world.
At the beginning of that story is Mary, who hoped in the promise of God, and in the promise of angel, that her son would be the source of hope for the world.
I encourage all families in the Diocese of Lincoln to turn to the Blessed Mother as Advent begins, especially in the rosary, and ask her to reveal to us her hope in the savior of the world, her son, Jesus Christ. I urge you to walk with Mary during these blessed days of Advent, as she leads all of us to the crib in Bethlehem, and to her Son and our Savior.
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