On all Sundays of Advent, the first reading is from the Prophet Isaiah; he constantly announces the coming of salvation, often using poetic images. Today we hear that “a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” The wolf will be the guest of the lamb; the cow and the bear will become neighbors; the baby will play by the cobra’s den! Yes, there is hope; yet, you might ask: What is genuine, realistic hope?
Insights of Pope Benedict XVI. In late 2007 as Advent approached, Benedict released a new encyclical on Christian Hope, Spe Salvi (SS) [Hope Saves]. It is a deep reflection, a challenging meditation. The text reads smoothly, the tone is cordial, the content emerges from the insights of one who himself seeks to be a minister of hope.
Contemporary Models of Hope. The pope provides several examples of contemporary Christians who lived with deep hope. He mentions the Vietnamese Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, who was a prisoner, often in solitary confinement, for thirteen years and left the precious little book entitled Prayers of Hope. Benedict writes: “… in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope—to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude” (SS 31).
The pope also offers the example of the African Saint Josephine Bakhita. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten until she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant and brought to Italy. Eventually, she received religious instruction, was baptized, and joined the Canossian Sisters. Benedict writes: “Now she had ‘hope’—no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: ‘I am definitely loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so, my life is good’” (SS 3).
Living Hope. This writer appreciates how the pope links faith, hope, and life. Three times in the encyclical (2, 4, 10) Benedict asserts the importance of “performative faith.” The Christian message is “not only ‘informative’ but ‘performative’” (SS 2). The pope asks: “Can our encounter with the God who in Christ has shown us his face and opened his heart be for us too not just ‘informative’ but ‘performative’—that is to say, can it change our lives, so that we know we are redeemed through the hope that it expresses?” (SS 4).
Mary, Model of Hope. The final prayer of Spe Salvi is addressed to “Mary, Star of Hope.” During Advent and always, we pray: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you” (SS 49).
James H. Kroeger, M.M.
O Mary, Morning Star of Hope,
Rise and shatter the gloom of night
And shine through the clouds of despair
To lead me to the one, true light of Christ That I and all may walk in his truth.
O Dawn who announces Christ’s coming,
Fill my mind with his peace,
My soul with his hope and
My heart with his love
That wherever I go and whatever I do
My words and actions might reflect
The glory of Christ come to earth.
Into your hands of mercy I commend
All my worries, concerns and problems,
Confident that with you by my side
Leading me ever closer to Christ, your Son, There is nothing that can separate me From the love of Jesus, my Lord And my God.