A Thrill of Hope

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“‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘is there any hope? For Frodo I mean, or at least mostly for Frodo.’”

So spoke Pippin to Gandalf on the eve of the siege of Gondor, a time when the Shadow was creeping and seemingly insurmountable darkness was bearing down on every land. What was Gandalf’s response? He hesitated in his speech and in his heart, but, peering through the distance, he saw on whose shoulders hope rested. There were great and grand structures and forces all around; might, power, strength and heft were about to be pitted against one another. Yet hope did not find its anchor there. Neither side lacked great minds, marvelous ambitions, battle-tested valor or daunting machinery. But, in the end, hope did not spring forth from those wells.

Gandalf could see that hope alone rested in the smallest, most vulnerable of characters, the hobbit who bore a great burden and bore it straight into the midst of the darkness.

Advent, Christmas, and the New Year are periods for refreshing hope – regardless of our circumstances. Because it is so often repeated, the word “hope” can sometimes sound empty. It can fall into our minds like a raindrop in a downpour, triggering no reaction from us at all. But, may this season, more than others, shock us from behind this veil of familiarity to realize that hope is not just a word or a sentiment, but a real gift from God without which life has no meaning.

We cannot live without hope – or at least not in any way really resembling sincere human life. Without hope we are imprisoned, chained and bolted to the ground saying, “There is no chance of me getting home; there is no chance of perfect, unending happiness; there is no end to evil. The problems I have are permanent. Evil will never be defeated. This is the way it is and always will be until the Sun destroys the Earth and humans are no more.”

Can we live that way? No, absolutely not. But unless our hope is perfect, we, at times, either believe these lies or (as our mainstream culture often does) we hop on the kitsch Merry-Go-Round of “Life is Fun! La-La-La” just to distract ourselves from facing these questions. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that – I want reality.

And the reality of our situation as human being is our status viatoris: the condition or state of “being on the way”. We are pilgrims. We are on a journey. There is a persistent existential “not yet” inherent in our nature as finite beings. We are making progress toward eternal happiness, towards fullness of being, but we are “not yet” there. We are creatures: created entities who can turn toward nothingness (sin), but who were made to turn towards and eventually obtain fullness of being – for “He created all things that they might be” (Wis 1:14). We are no longer what we once were, but we are “not yet” what we desire to be – what we ought to be.

That’s great, but how are we to have hope in this state? It is the same question to ask, “How are we to be more?”  How are we to obtain a greater fullness of being? We have a lack – how is it to be filled? By our own merits and efforts? The predominant voices around us think and say so, but that “solution” amounts to nothing. It is like trying to operate on your right elbow with your right hand – the right arm is the very thing that is broken!

No, we can be made whole only by He who is Wholeness itself. He who came (imaged by Frodo) as the smallest and most vulnerable of characters (a baby) and bore our greatest of burdens straight into the midst of darkness – and broke it. This is where our hope lies – in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Him – and Him alone – do we now gain access to everything for which our hearts burn with desire. So that now…

Christ is held by the hand of hope. We hold him and are held. But it is a greater good that we are held by Christ than that we hold him. For we can hold him only so long as we are held by him. (De fide, spe et caritate; Paschasius Radbertus)

This is why hope is a gift. We can have it only through grace; only through Christ “holding us”. If we accept this gift of hope, we will find “a sure and firm anchor of the soul, reaching even behind the veil, where our forerunner Jesus has entered for us” (Heb 6:19). Thus are we free to hope for the Return of the King: the time when He will come again to unite us to Himself once and for all – a thought to which these ruminations must fall silent.

So yes, Pippin, there is hope – a “thrill of hope”, as is sung in O Holy Night. Because of what characterizes this season, our journey is not pointless. Because of what God did for us 2,000 years ago, because of what He is doing for us today and because of what He will do in ages to come, we can be – we must be! – a people of hope.

Merry Christmas

nativity-scene-1What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.
A man named John was sent from God.
He came for testimony, to testify to the light, 
so that all might believe through him.
He was not the light,
but came to testify to the light. -John 1:4-8

Merry Christmas!

In this special season of family, food, and gift giving, it can be very easy to lose sight of what exactly we are celebrating. Our culture attempts to engage in the true meaning of the season by promoting ‘Joy to the World’ and ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’ but this approach is both fleeting and superficial. Unfortunately, we find many people whose hope and joy are not enhanced by the season but rather diminished by loneliness and increasing darkness. Eggnog, ham, and a new pair of socks are great, but without a focus on the true meaning of Christmas, something is necessarily missing.

The Church in her great wisdom attempts to turn our gaze to the fundamental reason for our celebration through the gospel reading from John. Through the birth of Jesus, life has entered the world and this life is the light all humanity desperately seeks. The darkness of depression, loneliness, and despair can be illuminated and conquered by Jesus. The Christmas season, which the culture fills with artificial light and life, is supposed to draw attention to the source of authentic hope, peace, and joy. The twinkling lights on the tree in Rockefeller Center which bring a certain superficial happiness can also remind us of the beauty and everlasting love we find in the manger. This awareness of Christ’s light cannot remain in the theoretical or the hypothetical since then it can be easily dismissed or ignored by an already skeptical society.

Just as John was sent by God to testify to the light, we are also called to become ‘decorations’ of Christmas to reveal the life we have found in Christ. God desires that we act as the twinkling lights on the tree or beautifully wrapped gifts, not to bring attention to ourselves, but to point to Him whose life we reflect.

i.d.916 exists to help young adults become intentional disciples of Jesus Christ. We are a community of missionary disciples; always ready and willing to promote the source of our joy and our relationship with Christ. Let’s be intentional this Christmas season. Let’s enjoy all that Christmas has to offer while remembering why we celebrate the birth of a baby in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.

And finally, let’s testify to the light, a light which darkness cannot overcome.

God bless,

Pete Burak

 

No Room at the Inn

 

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by David Macari

As I reflect on the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem, they would be nearing the city now. Joseph would be silently relieved that his wife would not undergo the danger of delivering a baby on the road−at the same time telling Mary, “See, I knew we could do it. Here we are, just a few more miles to a bed and a hot meal.” Mary is in active labor at this point. She would be feeling a mix of body wracking contractions and a very real, very human fear that delivering a child would include in the best of the circumstances of her day, let alone in a foreign land with no assistance of an elder woman to guide her through it. They’d would both be aching all over from their journey, Mary bruised extensively from riding the donkey, (she probably didn’t have a comfy padded leather saddle) and Joseph wincing with every step as his tough soles have been split by the 80 miles of walking over four days.

Then they arrive at Bethlehem, the City of David, the City of the King. It is the day of the invasion of Heaven unto Earth. It is God’s version of D-Day to break the power of evil.

No one will help them. As Joseph humbly negotiates and begs for a place for Mary to lie down, imagine the simple refusals that progress from annoyance, to anger, then to scorn; anything to get this pitiful pair away from their door. The head of the Holy Family is laughed to scorn in his time of need, a foreshadowing of what his Son would experience. I wonder how many places they went before they went to the outskirts of the city where poverty, crime and danger were likely to exist. This is where God softened the heart of a man to open a hovel to the Holy Family. Here they will take refuge in this germ infested, smelly, uncomfortable, not-idyllic-in-any-way, animal cave; rejected by the City of David.

God chose to have His Son born in filth. I strongly believe that He chose this, so that we would know that He wants to be born in our hearts−just as they ARE. My heart is still filthy. Compared to a glorified human heart, what our hearts will be in heaven, our hearts are nasty hovels. God has been looking for a landing zone for his Invasion. HERE, Lord! Be born in me! Make my hovel of a heart the dwelling place of the King of Kings. I am not ashamed to let You in. I boast of my weakness to You, Lord (2 Corinthians 12:9). Make my heart humble enough to receive Your Son.

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for they, like the most humble cave in the world, will receive the Kingdom of Heaven.

Generation ‘Maybe’

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Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” – Matthew 16:24

These are challenging words from Jesus. They cut to the heart and demand a response. Jesus invites us to count the cost, and decide whether He is worth following. Are we willing to endure hardship, suffering, and pain for the hope of eternal glory? Are we willing to deny our own desires in order to be purified by the will of God? Are we willing to follow wherever Jesus leads; in short, are we willing to be a disciple?   

Unfortunately, I believe the response of most of my generation to those questions would be: “maybe”. Very often I fall into the same non-commital attitude that infects my peers. “Yeah ok, I might come,” or “Maybe I can make it,” are two common phrases that accompany virtually every invitation. We love to keep our options open since something better or more exciting could appear at any moment. We struggle to commit to seeing a movie on a Friday night, let alone big things like marriage, children, or faith. I’ve come to realize that this irrational fear of commitment is both destructive and a huge obstacle to knowing, loving, and serving God. God doesn’t want wishy-washy followers; He desires decisiveness and intentionality.

A key to understanding true discipleship and therefore recognizing the twisted nature of being non-committal is illustrated by the words of Christ, “If any man could come after me, let him deny himself…” It seems to me that commitment to Christ requires a willingness to ignore or even reject our own desires. To be His follower involves an acceptance that we follow Him. He comes first. I have often heard my generation described as selfish or self-centered and it’s clear that the spirit of this age wants every individual person to think for themselves, seek personal pleasure, and fulfill one’s own dreams. This is the essence of narcissism, which explains why my generation continues to fall away from Christ at a staggering rate. Heaven forbid we follow anything since that could mean a submission of our will to another. We don’t like many rules, but “think for yourself or do what feels right,” is one rule we eagerly embrace. Because of this, I think we can aptly be called “Generation Maybe.”  We might do this or we could do that, as long as it fits into the plan we have for ourselves. This is not what God intended and this cannot characterize a disciple of Jesus Christ.

We all have dreams and we all have some idea of what we think will make us happy and fulfilled. We long to be included, loved, and celebrated, and that’s ok. Additionally,  the options for pleasure and fun have never been more numerous, and the freedom to choose is intoxicating. However, only through commitment to Christ can we experience those things that we most deeply long for in our hearts. We can continue to operate as a generation full of “me” people, shrinking from the slightest sign of commitment. The Lord offers us a life-giving alternative: “Deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me.

What’s your answer?

Please don’t say, “Maybe.”