He dwells among us: Hope and new beginnings

Advent reminds us of what a new beginning truly is when our hope is Christ

We all look forward to the new beginnings that mark life’s journey, which we hope will be filled with much good in our future and in the lives of others.

And with every life disappointment and suffering, there also is a hope born for something better to come. We need hope if we are to live differently than the circumstances and crosses of life might dictate.

Those who know my love of baseball know how much I am looking forward to a new Cardinals baseball season with the hope of a championship year following the disappointment of the team’s recent World Series loss.

But there are more serious hopes that we all have, and these are needed because without them the present would easily overwhelm us. But with each Advent season the Church reminds us that there is but one hope and joy that truly transforms and offers us a present moment and a future no one can change or take away—Christ among us and Christ to come!

When I think of the Advent season and the hope it should inspire and renew in us, I am reminded of someone I met almost 20 years ago in Rome. His name is Cardinal François-Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan of Vietnam, who as an archbishop serving in Saigon in 1975 was arrested by the new communist regime that had taken over the country.

He was imprisoned for 13 years, nine of them in solitary confinement. Released from prison in 1988 and exiled from Vietnam in 1991, Cardinal Van Thuan would continue to suffer the effects on his health of his maltreatment until his death in 2002. Eight years later, the Church would point to him as an apostle of hope for our age and officially opened his process for canonization in 2010.

What is so remarkable and inspiring about his long imprisonment was that Cardinal Van Thuan didn’t wait in hope for a better day to come. He instead lived each moment, no matter how dark and tortuous, with a love born of his hope in Christ. It was this hope that made a star rise in the darkness and sufferings of the prison camp like the star of Bethlehem that guided others to Christ born amongst them.

Resolved to living each moment “brimming with love” instead of in bitterness and anguish in the dire circumstances he found himself in, Cardinal Van Thuan touched the lives of his fellow prisoners in such a way that he also influenced the lives of his atheist guards. Christ was made present to them—a true Christmas—and they were converted.

Cardinal Van Thuan would not wait for a better day to come because his hope was Christ, and not even prison or torture could change or take Christ away from him. And it was this hope that caused him to live differently and that can cause us to live differently, too. This is what the Advent season of hope leads us to—the transformative love of Christ present and of Christ who will come again.

So many people today live without real hope in their lives, a spiritual poverty worse than material poverty. In a season when our thoughts are given to pondering the gifts we will buy for others and perhaps the ones we hope to receive, there is one gift we must strive to give continuously, not waiting for a better day—the gift of Christ.

The Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” always has been a favorite of mine. Though expressing a longing for Christ to come, we know in faith that He has come in time and that “He dwells among us” still in the Eucharist and the sacraments, and with love born of hope that He will come again. It is my fervent prayer that in this season of hope you will make greater room for Jesus in the “inn” of your heart so that you in turn may give the gift of hope, which is Christ in all you do each day.

In the name of Cardinal Rigali, and all of our priests, deacons and religious, I want to wish everyone a fruitful Advent season and a very blessed Christmas. May you make the new year of 2014 a continuation of our Jubilee Year of Celebration that is meant to help lead us deeper into the mystery of “Christ among us.”