Homily for Mass of Friday of the First Week of Advent Year C with the Archdiocese of Sydney pilgrims, Australian Catholic Youth Festival St Laurence’s Church, North Adelaide

04 Dec 2015

Homily for Mass of Friday of the First Week of Advent Year C
with the Archdiocese of Sydney pilgrims, Australian Catholic Youth Festival

St Laurence’s Church, North Adelaide, 4 December 2015

“Hope. Hope is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective. A lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.” So says President Snow in the first volume of The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins’ trilogy of novels which has outsold even the Harry Potter series – more than 70 million copies in the U.S. alone, translations into more than 50 languages, and film adaptations to boot. For those who haven’t read the books or seen the films, the story is set in a dystopian country called Panem, with a wealthy Capitol City and twelve districts in varying states of poverty. Every year, one boy and one girl from each district are made to compete in an annual televised fight to the death called “The Hunger Games“. But one year is different: a girl called Katniss Everdeen volunteers to enter the Games in place of her younger sister who had been chosen. From the moment she volunteers, Katniss becomes a symbol of hope for the members of the oppressed and poverty-stricken District 12.

Panem’s tyrannical leader, President Snow, fears the hope generated by Katniss, because a spark of hope, if not contained, can light the fire of revolution. With the final movie just released, many of you will know – spoiler alert – that his fears are reasonable ones. But why would a powerful, experienced, man of the world, with complete power over an entire country, fear a teenaged girl and the hope she generates? Hannah Arendt, one of the twentieth century’s most famous political theorists, once explained that totalitarians cannot abide spontaneous friendship any more open hostility; for “spontaneity, as such, with its incalculability, is the greatest of all obstacles to total domination over man.” Each new friendship, such as the friendship that grows between Katniss and her friend Peeta, shows that the power to act lies not with the system but with the individual; and person by person hope grows where previously all seemed hopeless. President Snow fears this hope because it allows the people of Panem to put up with their hardships while looking forward to a better world.

Christianity, too, looks forward in hope to a new world. In today’s first reading (Is 29:17-24) the prophet Isaiah prophesies a time when the dry land will be healed, so the scrub becomes farmland and the farmland forest; a time when the disabled will be healed, so the deaf hear and the blind see; a time when hearts are healed also, so that the cynics and whingers, gossips and crims, become holy; a time when societies also are healed, so that tyrants are brought down and the lowly raised up. That hopeful theme is taken up in our psalm which sings ‘Hope in Him, hold firm and take heart, hope in the Lord.’ (Ps 26) ‘Hope is the only thing stronger than fear’, President Snow says: the Psalmist asks rhetorically, ‘The Lord is my light and my help: whom need I fear?’ Hearing this question, you might think that the author of the psalm had read The Hunger Games! More likely it was the other way around…

Hope is one of the three ‘theological’ virtues, along with Faith and Charity (or Love). The three come together as a package. Hold on, you might say, I know some really loving person who is not very hopeful; or I know somebody who is hot for faith but could do with a love transfusion. But the Gospels show how faith, hope and love feed each other. Two blind men follow Jesus, begging Him to take pity. Jesus gives them their sight, not saying: I give in, your whinging forces me; not even, fair enough anyone who loves me that much deserves it. No, he says, “Your faith deserves it.” So the two men have faith. Faith makes them profess that He is the Messiah, the Son of David; it makes them think He could fix them. But they would not cry out “Take pity on us” if they didn’t hope Jesus would do so. They display their faith because of their hope. And if their hope enables their faith express itself, once they profess their faith and hope they receive the grace of healing they need and so become Christ’s devoted disciples: they love. It is hope that allows us to turn our face to God each time we fail; it allows us to believe that heaven is in our grasp.

Our Australian Catholic Youth Festival is a festival of faith, of course, and of love, but above all it’s a festival of hope. You are here because you believe and you love, God and neighbour; but you came here come because you hoped for something: you hope to deepen those relationships and experience new ones, you hope to become better persons, better members of the Body of Christ.

Hope is, of course, the central theme of the Advent season which we have just entered. As Christians we look forward in hope to the celebration of the mystery of the Incarnation, the enfleshment of God, when could joined us definitively, as one of us, with a human nature, so that He might redeem us, heal our nature. Just as the Chosen People looked forward for centuries to the coming of the Messiah, so too we Advent Christians look forward to Christ’s return, to a new heaven and a new earth, when ‘those who are united with Christ will form the community of the redeemed, “the holy city” of God, “the Bride of the Lamb” (Rev 21:2,9). She will no longer be wounded by sin, disability, powerlessness or pride, those things Isaiah saw wounding and destroying the human community. To hope is to look forward in this way.

So imagine yourself on the road with one of your friends and you hear Jesus is coming. You believe he can heal you. What is it you hope he can heal? What would you ask him for? Is it something about your personality or character, or a broken relationship or something damaged about the world around you? You and your friends are here and Jesus is indeed coming your way. So ask him – with all the daring of those blind men; with all the confidence of the Advent Church. We’ve got a short time together here in Adelaide and 20 ‘shopping’ days till Christmas; use that time to pray, reflect, grow in Faith, in Love – but also in Hope.