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By Father John Leising
Chaplain and Franciscan Associate

A few days ago, the newspaper reported that suicides in the United States have gone up dramatically over the last several months. It is not hard to find reasons for such a depressing statistic — the worldwide pandemic, the loss of jobs, hungry people, the poor response of the government. More and more people are being pushed into despair. How often are you in a conversation when someone just throws up their hands in disgust? The gesture is familiar: “there’s nothing we can do about this!”

I think it would be helpful to study an icon known as “The Virgin of the Sign,” an ancient icon from the 9th century. More recently, it has been called “Our Lady of the Advent.” In the icon, Mary also has her hands raised, but not in despair – in hope.

With hands raised (the normal prayer position in the early Church), Mary indicates her reverence toward God, her expectation (or hope) that a gift will be received from God. She indicates her readiness for whatever God has to offer through his Spirit.

We can recall the words of Isaiah: “the Lord himself will give you a SIGN: the virgin shall be with child and bear a son.” As Our Lady of the Advent, Mary waits in optimistic anticipation for the sign — the coming of Jesus.

Following Mary’s example, we should try to see this time as a time for hope and optimism, not despair. But what kind of hope? The Franciscan theologian, Fr. Daniel Moran, relying on a meditation by Thomas Merton, can tell us. Christian hope is not working oneself into a state of euphoria — daydreaming about the impossible. It is not a flight of fancy – looking for a magical rescue from a “helicopter” God.

Christian hope IS an optimism about something that, in some sense, is already here but not yet. It IS beginning to grasp what Incarnation (“the Word made flesh”) really means for us, and for all creation.

What do we do as we wait for hope to be fulfilled?  Think of John the Baptizer – the great Advent prophet. He didn’t just dream about the coming of the Messiah, he prepared for it. He told the people what they should do as they waited. Now, if all WE can do is to actively pray, it is enough! In a Gospel by Mark, Jesus tells us to stay alert and watchful together as we await hope. And as Paul writes to the Corinthians, we

should be thankful as we wait for hope to be fulfilled because we have spiritual gifts.

The Season of Advent has now begun. As people of faith, we are called upon to search for hope. As people of faith, we are called upon to seek a way other than dark despair. We are called upon to seek Christ, but in a world as it is, not as we wish it would be. As a People of Hope, we are called upon to model for others.  After all, we are guided by God’s Spirit.

Reflection:

How am I searching for hope during this dark time? Where am I finding it?