Reasons for hope
"Hope is the thing with feathers/That perches in the soul/And sings the tune -- without the words/And never stops at all..."
Oh Emily Dickinson, the Archdiocese of Boston has its own tale of hope! And, although hope is one of our theological virtues (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1812) and we know that we must, "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope," (1 P 3:15), sometimes the singing that Dickinson writes about, well ... it doesn't stop, but at times it surely slows down. Fortunately, Advent is the perfect time to rekindle hope. If your hope is flagging, Advent is made for you!
There is a saying that the theology we sing is the theology we believe and the hymns we sing in Advent and during the Christmas season are filled with hope: "People, look east and sing today/Love, the guest, is on the way." First on the list of reasons for our hope: Christmas. This tiny Baby -- God! -- came as one of us to save us. At the darkest time of year, the Light of the World arrives. How can we not be people of hope?
We are now a year and a half into the new model of leadership called for in Disciples in Mission. It is hard work. No one ever said it would be easy. Sometimes what can go wrong does. There are phases and stages and it seems as if we're constantly in training sessions, round the clock and miles away. Of course that's not the case, but it can seem that way. But there is so much to learn, including a whole new vocabulary. Words like disciple, discipleship, disciple-maker, evangelization, new evangelization, evangelizer, radical hospitality -- these are unfamiliar in our Catholic lexicon. They don't come, "trippingly on the tongue." We are asked to take on these words and, more importantly, put them into action in our lives. There's a learning curve here, no doubt about it. Hard working, heroic clergy, leadership teams and staff of Phase I and II Collaboratives, and faithful parishioners, know that Jesus is the reason for every season. They are willing to put time and effort into making Disciples in Mission work as best as possible. It is not only worth it, it is another reason for hope.
Life is rarely unambiguously black or white, hopeful or devoid of hope. A hurdle, trial, or crisis, in one area is balanced with encouragement in another, often unrelated area. God is good.
-- The roof is leaking, but 60-plus people come for a first-ever Advent mission: Hope.
-- There isn't money to improve handicap accessibility, but an online prayer initiative generates responses from as far away as the United Kingdom and parishioners do the praying: Hope.
-- Staff changes delayed a parish program, but collaborative parishes celebrate the Triduum together so beautifully that parishioners sent thank you notes: Hope.
-- The budget is stretched and hiring needed staff is a risk, but 35 women, of all ages, spend a picture perfect Sunday afternoon at the parish, learning about Disciples in Mission, praying, and strategizing ways that they can be evangelizers: Hope.
With Sunday Mass participation at 16 percent (at best), we must find new ways to reach out and invite in. Without throwing the baby out with the bath water, we need to find new ways to proclaim the Gospel -- boldly and gently, with hope and joy. Nearly three centuries after Alexander Pope wrote that "Hope springs eternal" in the human heart it still rings true. Hope is contagious. Unfortunately, so is pessimism. One bears good fruit, the other can eat us up.
Pastoral planning has challenges, unexpected situations, and long hours. All of these realities are easier to face when we remember the ultimate goal: life in Jesus Christ. 'Tis the season: "The hopes and fears of all the years/Are met in thee tonight."
SUSAN ABBOTT IS COORDINATOR OF PARISH OUTREACH FOR THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON'S OFFICE OF PASTORAL PLANNING.
- SUSAN ABBOTT IS EVANGELIZATION ASSOCIATE, OUR LADY OF GOOD VOYAGE SHRINE.