Joy and Hope
December 12, 2009
Finding many signs of Advent joy and hope
During the Saturday vigil Mass for the Second Sunday of Advent, I was listening to a young adult Catholic proclaim the first reading from the Book of the prophet Baruch (Bar. 5. 1-9). He announced it in such a fashion that the words came alive as if spoken for the first time.
In the reading, the prophet presents the image of the city of Jerusalem as an abandoned, lonely mother who has lost her children. The prophet is writing at the time of the exile when many of the inhabitants of Jerusalem had been deported to Babylonia and the desolate city was left in ruins. He consoles and encourages mother Jerusalem. At a dramatic point the prophet tells the sorrowful mother to go up to the hilltop to see her children journeying home.
Following is that dramatic portion of the reading: “Up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights; look to the east and see your children, gathered from the east and the west at the word of the Holy One, rejoicing that they are remembered by God.”
The reading caught my attention more than usual because the reader was a young adult Catholic, one of approximately 200 young adults who were attending a conference that day. He and his companions gave me a very visual image of those for whom Jerusalem longs to see, not the Jerusalem of the prophet Baruch’s time but the spiritual Jerusalem of the church, who longs to have many of her young people return.
The young adult conference held that day at Holy Trinity Church in El Dorado Hills was a tangible fulfillment of this text bringing together a significant number of the sons and daughters of the church for whom many of us worry and wonder. The conference not only brought this group together. The workshops that day help train them about how better to reach out to their peers and invite them to rediscover the grace of their Catholic faith and the joy of the Catholic community. I was very encouraged by the vitality of their faith and buoyancy of their interaction.
In recent weeks, I have enjoyed other such signs of Advent hope. A couple of weeks ago, I was in Kansas City, Mo., for the National Catholic Youth Conference. In attendance were more that 21,000 Catholic teenagers. It was exhilarating while also exhausting to see their boundless energy given equally to singing and celebrating in the cavernous Sprint Center as well as reverentially processing with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Kansas City. Their large numbers gave them the confidence to shout proudly about their Catholic faith.
At the same time, watching them texting and taking photos on their cell phones made me aware that they were not the only ones celebrating this youthful Catholic revival. Their messages were being sent to family and friends around the United States, spreading the good news of Jesus in nanoseconds. Needless to say, I needed earplugs most of the time during the general assemblies in the grand arena because of the level of music, singing and cheering. For once, I did not say, “Could you turn that down?” I wanted everyone to hear the voice of this youthful church.
On another occasion, I was listening to a local Spanish-speaking rock and roll station on the radio while driving to an evening commitment. It was Friday night and the radio announcer was reading different dedications and messages being texted in by listeners. In the space of 15 minutes I heard two messages that caught my attention.
In translation: “The youth group at St. Rose says hello and wants everyone to join them for the meeting this evening at 7 p.m.” A few minutes later, “So-and-So from Search (an active Catholic youth movement in Sacramento) says hello to all her friends and wants to remind them about the upcoming meeting.” I was delightfully stunned. Young Hispanic Catholics were taking the initiative to use the radio as a way to evangelize their community. That is good news for all of us and a sign of Advent joy and hope.
In a few days, the Catholics Come Home campaign will begin airing on many local television stations. I am certain that many good seeds of the kingdom will be scattered across the Diocese of Sacramento. I am grateful to so many of you who have contributed generously to this program so that we could take this bold initiative. The words of the prophet Baruch will have real meaning for us this Advent:
Look to the east and see your children
gathered from the east and the west
at the word of the Holy One.
The Virgin Mary is also a vivid image of the New Jerusalem to come. She is the mother of the Savior and mother of the church. May her maternal intercession help us sustain our hope in bringing all of God’s children together so that we may rejoice and sing with the prophet:
God is leading us in joy
by the light of his glory,
with his mercy and justice for company.