Appleton, WI

Dec. 6: In Joy & Hope

Here is the reflection I shared at Evening Prayer on the first Monday of Advent, November 30:

In our own downtown Appleton, there stands a five-foot sign spelling out the word “Hope.” It serves as a literal reminder of the Message of Hope which this Advent Season promises.

Pope Francis, in his TED talk in April of 2017, the first Pope to ever present a message in this forum, reminded us, “To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is hope. Feeling hopeful does not mean to be optimistically naive and ignore the tragedy humanity is facing. Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow. Hope is the door that opens onto the future. Hope is a humble, hidden seed of life that, with time, will develop into a large tree. It is like some invisible yeast that allows the whole dough to grow, that brings flair to all aspects of life. And it can do so much, because a tiny flicker of light that feeds on hope is enough to shatter the shield of darkness. A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another you, and another you, and it turns into us. And so, does hope begin when we have an us? No. Hope began with you. When there is an us, there begins a revolution.”

I like the idea that hope is revolutionary. God became a human being in Jesus so God could be close to us. God suffered for us in Jesus crucified to free us from selfishness and indifference. And God raised Jesus to new life to remind us that no tomb can ever get the best of us. God’s becoming one with us, suffering alongside us, destroying the darkness of sin and death, and making all things new – these mysteries unleashed the revolution which is the promise of hope for every human person and every human community since the beginning of time.

Let me suggest two images of hope that are timely for us.

On Saturday, November 28, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Washington DC became a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic Church, the first African American Cardinal in the United States. This moment in the history of our American Church took only 244 years to happen. On Saturday, Cardinal Gregory was wearing his mask and also had draped around his neck a very special cross. That vibrant enamel cross is known as the “Freeing the Spirit Cross.” It was designed back in the early 1950’s, and only a few were created, by Father Clarence Rivers, a black priest, who spent his priesthood bringing the beautiful expressions of African American culture into the Catholic liturgy. The cross is red to symbolize the love and the blood that was shed through the enslavement of our sisters and brothers throughout our nation’s history. Superimposed on this red cross is a black, rising Dove of Peace which represents our black sisters and brothers. And towards the bottom of the red cross is a swatch of green which recalls the sense of hope that was never lost.

The light of hope shines a bit brighter in our Church today. Cardinal Gregory has promised to be a courageous voice for hope and healing for our Catholic black brothers and sisters. He promises to be an agent for reconciliation – making us more and more one church and one nation. This moment fills our hearts with hope!

Sunday, November 29, was the fortieth anniversary of the death of Servant of God Dorothy Day. She was a beacon of hope in our Church and nation throughout the Great Depression. Ms. Day proclaimed with her life that advocacy for our marginalized sisters and brothers, those who are poor or homeless or hungry, is constitutive to the Gospel of Jesus. Christians can be Gospel People only if they are sensitive to our sisters and brothers who are cast to the side. Pope Francis laments often that we live in a throw-away society, and it is our poor sisters and brothers who find themselves on the side of the road too often, as other people sometimes just walk by them.

Dorothy Day, along with her companion, Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker Movement and established Houses of Hospitality in large cities across our nation. The Catholic author, Robert Ellsberg, worked for Dorothy Day for five years, when he was in his twenties, as one of the editors of the Catholic Worker Newspaper, which is still available today for the cost of one penny.

In reminiscing about this holy time in his life, Mr. Ellsberg recalls that “Dorothy was fastidious and cultivated in her tastes; she loved classical music, the opera, alliteration, flowers, and beautiful things. In her old age she liked to surround herself with postcards: icons and paintings, but also pictures of nature: trees, the ocean, and the arctic wilderness. She loved to quote Dostoevsky’s words, ‘The world will be saved by beauty.’ Despite all sadness and suffering around her, she had an eye for the transcendent. There were always moments when it was possible to see beneath the surface. ‘Just look at that tree!’ she would say. It might be an act of kindness, the sound of an opera or the radio or the sight of flowers growing on the fire escape outside her window: such moments caused her heart to sing with joyful hope.”

Cardinal Gregory and Dorothy Day are people who light up the way of hope for all of us. Their love for Jesus – their intimacy in prayer with Him – is the energy which fuels their hope-filled ministries.

The Message of Hope literally graces our downtown Appleton. We are reminded of our call on these Advent Days, and on every day, to be Jesus to each other – to live hope and breathe hope, especially making a difference in the lives of people around us who struggle to hope. How will you and I be heralds of hope and lights in the darkness on these difficult days?

Father Bill +