I was probably in fifth grade when I bought a prayer book, “Mary, My Hope,” for my mother. I recall that there was a week-long parish mission at my home parish with prayer books in the vestibule for purchase. I believe it was my Christmas gift for my mother in 1956.
I cherish that prayer book. I found it in my mother’s bedroom right after her death in 1989. Like every good prayer book, it is well worn. I can picture my mother looking at the title, “Mary, My Hope,” likely every morning when she opened it to say her prayers. We, the church at our best, know that the Blessed Mother and devotion to her will always lead us to her son and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Thus, Mary is my hope.
This time of Advent is both an opportunity for us to honor our Blessed Mother, who watched and waited as Jesus grew, and to rekindle a true sense of hope in our lives. We are told that human beings cannot live without hope. To do so is to surrender to death in despair.
The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” (CCC n. 1817) gives a great definition of hope: “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying, not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.”
The two words that jump right off the page are desire and trust.
The season of Advent, those special four weeks before the celebration of Christmas, are times to rekindle proper desire in our lives. It is no accident that the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8 always comes at the very beginning of the season of Advent. It holds special meaning for me because on Dec. 8, 1999, I was ordained a bishop. With the guidance of our Blessed Mother, we ask that our desires will be purified during these four weeks approaching Christmas.
We also pray that we might place our trust in God. There is a touch of irony each time we look at the back of every dollar bill, reminding us, “In God We Trust.” So often that bill represents placing our trust in the direction of desires that are not lasting.
Church tradition has given us three surefire ways to purify our desire and to increase our trust. Each is worthy of our attention.
The first is to pray more frequently and more fervently. Advent calendars and Advent wreaths are great reminders to pray in our home and even to consider going to daily Mass. There is no substitute for placing ourselves in an environment that will purify our desires. When we pray, we begin to think differently.
Second, Advent reconciliation services are great opportunities to receive the sacrament of reconciliation. I will join brother priests on Wednesday, Dec. 14, at the Passionist monastery for a prayer service and opportunity to go to confession. Please check out the schedule for the sacrament of reconciliation in your parish before Christmas is here. (Visit the archdiocesan website for times and schedules here.
Third, there is the wonderful gift of intentionality. To purify our desires and increase our trust, we do not necessarily need to do more things. Rather we need to do things with a deliberate and careful intentionality. As I sign my Christmas cards, I take each moment to say a prayer of thanksgiving for the person whose card I am addressing. You can do the same when you write a card, shop for a gift or even bake those famous Christmas cookies that everybody loves.
I am so thankful for examples like my mother who prayed that prayer book “Mary, My Hope” until it was worn through. During these Advent days, I pray that you have in your lives such a witness of fostering the purification of your desires and a deepening of your trust in God.
I discuss these themes on my monthly television program, “Conversations with Archbishop Kurtz.” Click here to see this segment and others for the month of December.
Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz