The word "Hope" has taken on many different meanings for me this Advent. Throughout the season we wait in hope for a savior and the savior surprises us, not because the savior is God, but because we find God in a feeding trough for animals!
Indeed sometimes surprises are not what they are cracked up to be.
About 2 weeks ago, my friend and colleague Hope Villella, (who many of you know from her former position at the National Pastoral Life Center where she worked as the director of The Roundtable, a social justice forum) was in a serious car accident near her new home in South Dakota. She broke a bone in her neck and back and seriously broke her left hand (yep, she's a lefty!). For the next 12 weeks she'll be in a Halo brace to keep her neck from moving. Her spinal cord wasn't damaged, so thankfully she'll be able to walk again and the doctors expect a full recovery from all her injuries--but she'll be out of action for some time.
Hope has been a great friend and ministry colleague. We both discerned leaving out high profile gigs for direct ministry jobs--her working on an Indian reservation in South Dakota and me in Buffalo at UB's Campus Ministry. If you asked us 3 months ago or so what our biggest fears were we both would have had varied answers surrounding new positions in ministry. And while we spoke a few weeks ago about the challenge of driving again after being in NYC for so long (where a car isn't needed), I don't think anybody would have envisioned that something so horrible could happen.
And yet, Ms. Villella's first name encourages us in a season where we can easily lose hope. The days grow darker and colder now and each tragedy gets heightened because we have naturally reacted to our environment's dankness. The gray skies of Buffalo can make me ponder life's insignificance until sheer simplicity can make me awaken to the beauty of the mundane. I can only imagine that my friend is thankful at this juncture that she survived and has a good prognosis, but also that she sits with fear and wonder about how this could happen and how her long term recovery will go? It can't be easy for her but she has a lot of family support --and if family can't support you than I'm not sure who can and she's already joking on facebook--talk about inspiring.
I'm not sure what Advent and Christmas holds for Hope this year, but I do know that for me, Advent has always been a sketchy time of year. While I know that Christ is coming, I'm not all that patient about it. In fact, I'm not all that patient about anything. I want to jump start the ministry program and finish my Christmas shopping and serve the needs of the students and be a good colleague to the rest of the parish and complete the three other projects I have going.
And in this "sketchy time of year," where my patience wears thin, I realize that indeed I have only the hope of God's breaking into humanity to rely on and because of that, all my worries can indeed melt away into the Advent snow.
For hope, is more than enough. Hope is what keeps us alive. Hope is what enables dreams and ideas to flourish.
But hope is also painful and I can't imagine how painful it must be for Hope right now. I can't imagine what it must be like for Hope, to wait without moving--to sleep without moving--to lose the use of your good hand and before test results come in, having those feelings of anxiety of what lies ahead.
At many liturgies, we hear the words that we live in a sure and certain hope...and perhaps that is all we ever have. And we'd rather have certainty than hope.
But God always gives us what we need, even if the expectations of what we wanted are dashed. And so if we don't have certainty--what do we have? We have hope and God tells us that it is all we need and we need nothing more.
But once we lose hope, we indeed lose everything. We fall into dispair, hopelessness. Indeed it is my idea of hell.
So tonight, let us pray for Hope. Let us pray that she can practice patience, get support from friends and family and simply rest in the peace that God provides.
But let us also pray that we find Hope in something this Advent. For me it's the inspiration of a young woman who already has started typing messages and cracking jokes on Facebook not long after she had to wonder if she would ever walk again.
It indeed is that time of year: It is Hope's season...
Your humble blogger is Mike Hayes, a well-known expert in the world of young adult ministry (20s and 30s) in the Catholic Church. Mike is the author of Googling God (Paulist, 2007) where he explores both the chaotic world that young people live in and their religious reactions to that world. He also explores the age of instant gratification and how churches can respond to the needs of the young adult age by using technology alongside more traditional ministry methods.
Mike founded the award winning BustedHalo.com® in 2001 and continues to contribute to it as the editor of their catechetical section appropriately named Googling God.
Recently, he left BustedHalo® to focus on more direct ministry with young people at St Joseph University Parish as a Campus Minister for the South Campus at the University at Buffalo.
He has only two loves: his adorable wife, Marion and a nine pound chihuahua named Haze, who still find him amusing enough to let them live in their home.