Happy New Year! I always look forward to sharing this greeting with fellow Catholics at the beginning of Advent, which marks the beginning of a new liturgical year for us. With this greeting, whether we do it now or with the rest of society at the beginning of January, it is expressed with hope. With the new year just beginning, we express our hope that it will be a good year ahead. I think it is safe to say that this past year has not exactly been what we had hoped. Is there any reason to think that the coming year will be any better?
As Christians, our answer to that question is an overwhelming “yes.” Why? Because the hope that we hold onto is a hope that is different from the worldly hope that always seems to come up short. I was recently reading Pope Benedict’s encyclical on hope (Spe salvi), and he commented on the traditional dialog that takes place between the minister and the parents at the beginning of the Sacrament of Baptism. Here is how the dialog goes:
- Minister: What do you ask of the Church?
- Parents: Faith
- Minister: And what does faith give you?
- Parents: Eternal life
And so from the very beginning of our lives in Christ, we have planted within us, through the gift of faith, the hope for eternal life. With each passing day and each passing year, we take one step closer to the realization of that hope.
The Season of Advent is a great time to renew that sense of hope within us. This season invites us to be joyful as we remember the coming of Christ in history nearly 2000 years ago. His birth brought hope to a people who had been walking in darkness for generations. His birth was a preparation for His death, when He destroyed death forever and unlocked the gates of Heaven to believers. That victory is the reason for our hope. Advent therefore is also a time to look forward in hope to Christ’s return when all who are in communion with Him in life and in death will share in His victory fully.
In the meantime, however, Advent invites us to recall that Jesus comes to us here and now in the mystery of His grace, present to us in a special way in the sacraments. He brings light to us in the midst of the darkness that surrounds us, reminding us that we are not alone. He is near to us, renewing our hope that at the end of this earthly journey, no matter how bumpy that journey may be, our hope in eternal life, given on the day of our Baptism, will be fulfilled.
May I therefore encourage you to pray the following traditional Advent prayer regularly: “Come, Lord Jesus.” We pray for His coming in glory at the end of time, but we pray for Him to come in mystery into our lives anew in this new year, so that no matter what this year may bring, our hope in Him will not waver, and as St. Paul reminds us, this “hope does not disappoint.” (Rom 5:5)