Archive for the ‘Festival of Hope’ Category

Spe Salvi Day

November 30, 2008

First of all, a blessed Advent to all.  Today is the First Sunday of Advent, and the first day of a new liturgical year.  Advent is, uniquely, a season of hope.  Joseph Bottum, editor of First Things, offered an extraordinary essay on this last year, and it appears this week on the FT blog.  A snip:

I’ve noticed in recent years, however, that the ­feeling comes over me more rarely than it used to, and for shorter bits of time. I have to pursue the sense of wonder, the taste in the air, and cling to it self-consciously. Even for me, the endless roar of untethered Christmas anticipation is close to drowning out the disciplined anticipation of Advent. And when Christmas itself arrives, it has begun to seem a day not all that different from any other. Oh, yes, church and home to a big dinner. Presents for the children. A set of decorations. But nothing special, really.

It is this that Advent, rightly kept, would prevent—the thing, in fact, it is designed to halt. Through all the preparatory readings, through all the genealogical Jesse trees, the somber candles on the wreaths, the vigils, and the hymns, Advent keeps Christmas on Christmas Day: a fulfillment, a perfection, of what had gone before.

Do check out the whole thing this week.

We have to note that it was one year ago today that Pope Benedict XVI signed the second encyclical letter of his pontificate, Spe Salvi, on Christian hope.  “The Gospel,” he wrote in that letter, “is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”

This reference to how we live reflects a theme that runs throughout the encyclical.  As I tried to bring out strongly in Your Guide to Spe Salvi: Saved in Hope, the Pope’s intention is not to offer a pious theological reflection on a point of doctrine.  No, he insists on pressing the question throughout his letter: What difference — what real, concrete difference — does the virtue of hope make to those who possess it? 

In fact he presents several living, breathing examples of people who have lived lives pulsing with hope — St. Josephine Bakhita, Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, and St. Paul Le-Bao-Tinh — and draws out the difference it made to them.  None of them were strangers to the pains and frustrations of real life.  Indeed, they knew more suffering than most of us, thank God, ever will. 

And yet, it was hope, for example, that fueled Bakhita’s conviction (Bakhita, who literally bore the scars of brutal childhood beatings upon her body) that “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.”  That is as concentrated a statement of Christian hope as you will find anywhere.

Many of the guest posts that have appeared on this blog during the past month have brought out this point very well, too.  Reading them, I have given thanks for the hope that is in the hearts of these authors and that has been shared with us here. 

Appropriately, we also bring to a close today a month traditionally dedicated to remembering and praying for those who have died.  Along these lines, I would encourage you to take a look at the text of a homily delivered earlier this week at the funeral of a young woman who was a well-known figure among many Washington, DC, Catholics.  A snip:

The first Christians had a beautiful symbol they engraved on their tombs, a symbol unknown to the pagans: the anchor. With it, they signified that their ship, on its final voyage over the ocean of death, was not without security in its crossing the waves. There was a sturdy device aboard that would firmly secure them on arrival in the final harbour.

This anchor is placed in Heaven, and, as the letter to the Hebrews tell us, is a symbol for Jesus, who has entered heaven before us, opening us a firm path in the ultimate journey of death. And thus, this anchor is not totally like the anchors we let fall into the deep, because this anchor is thrown upwards, similar to what mountaineers employ to climb mountains.

Prayer for the dead, and consideration of our own deaths from the standpoint our Christian faith, is an act of hope.

Advent is the season of hope because we remember and celebrate the coming of Christ into human life more than 2000 years ago, we remind ourselves and give thanks for this presence among us in our very midst, and we look forward to and pray for the coming of Christ at the end of time.

Louis-Marie Chauvet, one of the most significant sacramental theologians of our day, points out (in this book) that the sacramental hosts that we consume at Mass and adore outside of Mass offer a wonderful image of Christian hope.  By faith, we see Christ present in our palm, “body, blood, soul, and divinity — the whole Christ” (as Trent put it, and  the Catechism of the Catholic Church repeats).  And yet to “the naked eye,” in particular to the doubting eye, it seems to be just bread, nothing more. 

Hope is similar, Chauvet suggests.  Without it, life is merely what it seems to be at face value — it has its nice moments, joyful moments, sorrowful moments, miserable moments.  But in the end, none of these moments have any special significance beyond what they appear to be on the surface.  But by our faith and our hope (which Benedict insists at length in Spe Salvi to be intimately interrelated), we see Christ present in the midst of it all, accompanying us, guiding us, strengthening us.

May I suggest a re-reading of Spe Salvi this Advent season (with Your Guide to help you along, if it seems like it might), and an ongoing prayer that the Spirit open you and us ever more widely and generously to the gift of hope that God offers.  It is, after all, a theological virtue, which is, unlike most virtues, received rather than achieved.

And let’s pray together, those who peruse these words this week, this season: Come, Lord Jesus.  Come, Lord Jesus.

Today’s Guest Blogger: Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle

November 27, 2008

I mentioned yesterday that I’m not putting the Festival of Hope on hold for a day for Thanksgiving, because that would be excluding one of the guest posts I’ve received and not giving away all of the cool stuff I have stacked up for prizes.  So the question was, Whose post to put up for Thanksgiving Day?

As I looked over those I have left, the choice was easy.  Thanksgiving is such a family-oriented day, after all, and I have one author whose work is intensely oriented toward the strengthening of families, specifically through the vocation to motherhood.

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle is the author of some extraordinary books on motherhood.  She has not one but two newly published works, Grace Cafe: Serving Up Recipes for Faithful Mothering and The Domestic Church: Room by Room.  (I can tell you my wife has been very impressed with both of these.  You’re lucky she’s letting me give them away here.)

And then there’s Donna-Marie’s earlier works, A Catholic Prayerbook for Mothers, The Heart of Motherhood: Finding Holiness in the Catholic Home, and Prayerfully Expecting: A Nine-Month Novena for Mothers to Be.   (Is that last title beautiful, or what?)  As if that were not enough, she has also written The Catholic Saints Prayerbook.

But there is more to Donna-Marie.  This mother of five is a lay Missionary of Charity.  Indeed, she knew Mother Teresa personally and was a regular correspondent with her for several years.  (Mother even wrote the preface for Prayerfully Expecting.) 

Not impressed yet?  Just a few months ago, Donna-Marie served, at the invitation of the Vatican, as a North American delegate to an International Women’s Conference in Rome, marking the twentieth anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, on the dignity and vocation of women. 

Finally, Donna-Marie blogs at Daily Donna-Marie.

She is our guest blogger today and we’re giving away two of her books below, so you’ll be glad you stopped by this Thanksgiving Day!

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle: “A Ray of Hope”

November 27, 2008

If we didn’t have hope, what would we do? Without hope many would despair. We don’t have to look very far to realize that so many live without much hope. When I think of hope, I recall the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love which we ask for on our first three Hail Mary beads of our rosaries. Hope becomes ours for the asking. Amazing! We have to remember to ask.

St. Clement of Alexandria wrote, “If you do not hope, you will not find what is beyond your hopes.” Hope makes me also think about trust and surrender, which go hand and hand with our belief and love of God. When we have hope in our hearts we will be putting our trust in Our Lord and will be able to put one foot in front of the other each day, serving Our Lord in the people He surrounds us with. To do this, we surrender our lives to God through prayer so that we grow closer to Him and deeper in holiness.

As we light our first Advent candle very soon, a flickering flame will represent hope. Let us pray that we can focus on preparing our hearts to open wider for Our Lord this Advent season. Let’s hope that we can do our best to turn to prayer at every opportunity during a great season of hope and promise.

Perhaps the craziness of the advertizing frenzy that flashes around us is too distracting, and we feel that we cannot find peace to pray during a season that is meant to be quiet so that we can prepare our hearts for the Christ Child. The Liturgy of Advent emphasizes quiet, penance, prayer, but also hope, light, joy, and surrender. Let’s strive to find those things. Let’s delve deeper than the surface and also realize that God is in control of everything. We can find quiet even amid the hustle and bustle, by lifting our hearts to God with a great hope and faith that He hears us – that He knows our hearts – that He loves us more than we can imagine!

An awful lot can be accomplished if we allow God to work through us to sanctify our actions and prayers when we offer it all to Him in full surrender. Our Lord calls us to surrender our lives to Him – everything! Surrendering can be as simple as accepting our circumstances, whether it be our living conditions, our state in life, both little and big annoyances, sickness and suffering, being misunderstood, being criticized and belittled for our Christianity. God’s hand is mystically in it all. He knows what‘s going on.

Will we surrender to Him and allow Him to work through us and around us? He wants us to surrender our wills to Him and respond in love to all who are in our midst. Yes, even to love the one who has just stolen “your” parking space or the one who is constantly criticizing you. It’s not always going to be easy. Jesus never said it would be. However, they all need our love; a healing love that will give others hope.

Mother Teresa had said that “Calcutta is all over the world for those who have eyes to see.” Let’s open our eyes so we can minister to the needs of the people that because of God’s divine providence are near us in some way – our family, co-workers, friends and parishioners. Is there someone who needs our love?

When we learn to surrender our lives over to Our Lord, we will have lasting and true peace, and joy of heart. This joy and peace will radiate as a healing balm to others around us; offering them hope for their journeys. Let’s be that ray of hope by giving our hearts to God and allowing Him to work through us during this upcoming wonderful hopeful season of Advent and beyond!

November 27 book giveaway: DMC O’Boyle’s “Grace Cafe” and “The Domestic Church: Room by Room”

November 27, 2008

Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle’s two newest books are Grace Cafe: Serving Up Recipes for Faithful Mothering and The Domestic Church: Room by Room.  And they’re both going to one fortunate visitor this Thanksgiving Day.  But feel free not to enter to win them, because we’d love to keep them in this house.  I’m kidding, come get them, you’ll be glad you did.  (Or one visitor will, anyway.)

To enter, leave a comment in this comment box of this post, naming one thing for which you are thankful today (of course!).  As usual, you’ll have to include your e-mail address so that I can contact you if you win, but it will not be viewable publicly.  The winner will not be chosen randomly this time; rather, my kids will pick the response they like best.

Today’s Guest Blogger: Karina Fabian

November 26, 2008

I mentioned below that I wanted to make sure this Festival of Hope included writers of fiction. Not just any writers of fiction, but writers whose faith shapes their art (though certainly what that means or should mean varies among Catholic writers).  So one natural choice seemed to be Karina Fabian, the president of the Catholic Writers Guild

Karina writes science fiction and fantasy, often with Catholic characters and themes. She and her husband have edited two award-wining anthologies, Infinite Space, Infinite God and Leaps of Faith, both of which involve Christian themes.  Her fiction also appears in the anthology Firestorm of Dragons.  She is also the author of several nonfiction works on crafts.

Karina’s home on the web is at Fabianspace.com.

[By the way, the Festival of Hope, barring unforeseen circumstances, will not pause for Thanksgiving.  In order to post all of the guest posts that I’ve gathered and to give away all that I have to offer for free to you, my plan is to keep right on rolling through Thursday and into the weekend.  So stop by during your holiday festivities if you get a chance.]

Karina Fabian: “I Will Not Give Up on God’s Creation!”

November 26, 2008

First off, I want to congratulate Barry on his book, Your Guide to Spe Salvi: Saved in Hope. It’s an incredible gift to be able to take a theologically rich document like Spe Salvi and break it down to something the layman can contemplate and learn from. On behalf of those of us who need a little hand-holding in our Catholic spiritual education, thank you!

I must confess: I struggled to write this blog. I’d planned on talking about science fiction as a genre of hope, but this week, I’ve been watching some friends struggle with hope in their lives. One is in the process of watching her mother undergo a traumatic treatment regimen for cancer, while another is dealing with the issues of Nihilism and Christian Nihilism in the form of End Times philosophies. When it comes down to it, both are dealing with the same thing: hope.

My friend recently blogged about her mother’s decision to undergo cancer treatment, despite the slim chance of it extending her life beyond a few months. At the same time, she is preparing to leave this life. My friend wrote that even in illness, even in suffering, her mother was living–her mother was dying–with a certain grace and dignity. That dignity comes from hope–hope in something bigger than herself. Hope in something beyond this world. And yet, she is not ready to give up hope that there is something still for her in this world. Whether or not she had elected to take the cancer treatment, her hope sustains her through the illness and pain. It keeps her from merely giving up or taking the “easy way out,” through suicide or (as our society calls it) euthanasia.

Euthanasia, like the choice for abortion, is a statement against hope. As Catholics, as Christians, as God’s creatures, we should always make our choices toward hope.

Hope, however, is not always the easy choice. It can mean enduring trauma–whether a terminal illness, an unwanted pregnancy, or a world that seems to be slipping into moral or economic decline. It means standing firm and declaring, “I will not give up on God’s creation!”–and then working through the tough times, even when there seems to be no relief in sight, not just because we believe we can effect a better future, but because there’s something noble and grace-filled in the very act of living in hope.

Sadly, some parts of our society no longer believe that–or perhaps don’t want to believe it because of the implied effort and suffering. So instead, they take on the attitude that nothing matters in this world. You’d think that would be an unchristian view, but those my friend calls “Christian nihilists” believe nothing in this world matters because eventually, all the good believers will be called to heaven while the rest get seven years to get their act together or go to Hell. Either way, the message is that an individual life means nothing outside its own gratification, whether psychological or spiritual. That has led to what Catholics call the “culture of death.” A culture devoid of hope that can carry it through difficult times.

He, like so many others, believes this culture of death is taking over, and it’s eating away at his hope.

 Yet while there is much talk about the culture of death, there is even more action taken in hope. More often, rather, I see parents willing to sacrifice to raise their children in moral, loving homes full of hope for the future; people banding together to fight in the political, medical or scientific realms; or individuals choosing to live happy lives despite the trauma and chaos that comes their way.

I’ve seen friends stick through difficult marriages and find comfort. I watched one mother send her autistic son to a boarding school, terrified and clinging to hope that she’d done the right thing, and have him return a changed child, who started his own business that same year. And I see a friend who can find beauty in her mother’s struggle to die as she lived, as a woman of hope. On a larger scale, I see the workers who created the program for my friend’s child, and the researchers who have developed the chemotherapies that have improved the chances for those who suffer from cancer. And what of the scientists who developed the cure for polio, smallpox or other childhood diseases? Or Stephen Hawkins, who continues to use his brilliant mind to further our understanding of the universe even as his body fades?

This is the culture I believe in, the one that inspires me to write about a future where God and science have made life exciting and worthwhile. This is the culture that will take us to the future, a future I believe God hopes for us to live.

November 26 book giveaway: “John Paul II: My Beloved Predecessor” by Pope Benedict XVI/Joseph Ratzinger

November 26, 2008

Here’s the description at the Pauline Books website:

This collection of texts by Benedict XVI, composed both before and after his election to the pontificate, is a testimony to his close relationship with John Paul II, born of over a quarter of a century of close collaboration by two of the most important religious figures of the new millennium. Benedict explores John Paul II’s life: his vocation and how it matured, his passion for philosophy and theology, his academic studies and influences, and his pontificate. Read the book you’ve been hearing about and gain unique insight into the minds of our two most recent popes!

May the memory of John Paul II and the study of his work and his teaching bring you closer to Christ. May these be the nucleus of unity in a shared struggle for the future of the Church and of the nation. I extend my heartfelt blessing to all, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Benedict XVI

Features twelve selections, including Ratzinger’s tribute to John Paul II on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of his pontificate, as well as the moving homily delivered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at the funeral Mass of “our late beloved Pope John Paul II.”

Also features a special full-color photo insert!

Interested in winning a free copy?  Leave a comment in the comment box to this post.  Make sure you leave your e-mail address, which won’t be published, so I can contact you if you win.  The winner will be chosen at random.

[Remember, check back tomorrow, perhaps while you’re waiting for the turkey to cook.  I’ll be featuring a guest post and giving away not one but two excellent books by a significant Catholic author.]

Today’s Guest Blogger: Nancy Carpentier Brown

November 25, 2008

I became aware of Nancy Carpentier Brown’s work through her book The Mystery of Harry Potter: A Catholic Family Guide (Our Sunday Visitor, 2007).  Though I’ve never read the Potter books, every one of them is in our home, and most have been read more than once by our eldest daughter (now 17), so I’ve been attentive to what’s being said about the series for about half a dozen years.  I found Nancy’s book to be a common-sense and helpful approach, and then was all the more intrigued when I became aware of her strong interest in G.K. Chesterton. 

Nancy has also contributed a chapter to The Catholic Homeschool Companion.  Her articles have appeared in Our Sunday Visitor, This Rock, Gilbert, Canticle, Sunshine Artist, and Heart and Mind (now mater et magistra). Her poetry has won a Catholic Press Association award.

Nancy’s own blog is Flying Stars, and besides that, she also blogs regularly at The Blog of the American Chesterton Society

Her guest post follows.

Nancy Carpentier Brown: “Hope and Harry Potter”

November 25, 2008

In an amazing article, author Jason Knott suggests that each of the seven Harry Potter books coves or emphasizes one of the seven virtues. The sixth book of the series, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Knott says, is about hope:

According to Thomas Aquinas, “the object of hope is a future good, difficult but possible to obtain.” Hope as a virtue concerns the proper confidence in obtaining the proper good by the proper means. One of the hints that Half-Blood Prince is about hope is the large number of times this word is repeated, especially at strategic points….

In this book, since Dumbledore dies in the climax, we get his debriefing beforehand, and this happens just after he and Harry see Slughorn’s true memory. In this early debriefing, Dumbledore tries to convince Harry that because of his whole heart and his ability to love, he has a chance to win against Voldemort. Harry concludes that he must have a different attitude in the fight, and that attitude is hope.

Harry Potter, like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, is the “only hope.” The first Star Wars movie (or the fourth) is called A New Hope, and the series in many ways parallel the Harry Potter books, except Star Wars has all the “Force” stuff, and in Harry Potter they just pray. Harry is the only one who survives a killing curse. He is destined to fight the Dark Lord, and hopefully defeat him. Hero stories follow the same hopeful path.

G.K. Chesterton, in his masterwork Orthodoxy, says some important things about hope.

…the true citizen of fairyland is obeying something that he does not understand at all. In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.

Chesterton is saying that hope rests on a hinge: a thin thread that can break at any moment. Hope can be lost and found. Hope can be gained by praying for it. Hope can be sought by seeking it. Hope is an act of faith: we must have confidence that we can gain hope if we want hope. We must believe that hope can be ours if we ask for it.

In his autobiography, Chesterton writes:

I began by being what the pessimists called an optimist; I have ended by being what the optimists would very probably call a pessimist. And I have never in fact been either, and I have never really changed at all. I began by defending vermilion pillar-boxes and Victorian omnibuses although they were ugly. I have ended by denouncing modern advertisements or American films even when they are beautiful. The thing that I was trying to say then is the same thing that I am trying to say now; and even the deepest revolution of religion has only confirmed me in the desire to say it. For indeed, I never saw the two sides of this single truth stated together anywhere, until I happened to open the Penny Catechism and read the words, “The two sins against hope are presumption and despair.”

Presumption and despair. Presumption is the sin of pride that says I can do more than I think I can alone. I overestimate my abilities. I think I can get myself into heaven by myself. I think I am really a great writer converting millions to the faith merely through my wonderful words, because God uses me because He thinks I’m special. Despair is the opposite of presumption, and says that no matter what I do, no matter how good I try to be, I’ll never get to heaven because God would never let me in there, because no matter what I am just too bad to get there; God would give up on me, for sure. No matter what I do, how I pray, I can never do enough; and I completely forget that God’s grace is part of the picture.

So between the two extremes of presumption and despair, is a healthy dose of hope.  Speaking of healthy hope, let’s turn now to Spe Salvi.

What is it we hope for? Why do we need hope? Hope is equivalent to faith, says Pope Benedict. We need hope, we want hope, we long for hope, we should pray for hope.

The distinguishing mark of Christians, says Benedict, is that we have a future: we have hope.

At the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, after they’ve fought the evil Lord Voldemort and know they must continue the fight, one of the characters says, “Well, we have something the other side doesn’t have.” And what’s that, someone asks. The answer:”Something worth fighting for.”

A hope. A dream. A future.

In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Ron, Harry, and Hermione are reunited with their old school mate Neville, who has stayed at school, fighting the evil minions of Lord Voldemort. When they first meet up with Neville, he is bruised and battered, having been beaten by the bad guys. When his friends ask him why he looks this way, he tells them he stood up to the evil ones, and spoke the truth. His friends rather laughingly suggest that perhaps, knowing he would get beaten, it wasn’t so smart to speak up.

“The thing is,” says Neville, “it helps when people stand up to them, it gives everyone hope. I used to notice that when you did it, Harry.”

So here is Neville, taking an example from Harry Potter, a sort of positive peer pressure, to stand up for what is right, not out of arrogance or to be a smart mouth, but because he is motivated to give his fellow classmates hope. He remembers feeling hopeful in the past when Harry stood up to them. He passes that hope along, by continuing the fight in Harry’s absence.

In the end, we must have hope if we are to live each day. The characters in Harry Potter had hope that evil personified as Lord Voldemort would be defeated by the only person evil could never kill. The characters in Star Wars have hope that Luke Skywalker will save the galaxy from the evil work of Darth Vader. We humans, living out our lives in the real story of the world, place our hope in Jesus, who was the first person who died but didn’t stay dead; who survived as a baby when all the other babies were killed; who marks us as His own at our baptisms, showing the world by an invisible sign that we are His; who feeds us and cares for us and loves us—we place our hope in Jesus because he took on our sin, our pain, our sorrow, and bore it all so that we might have life.

Let us then put our hope in the Lord, who saves us.

Today’s Guest Blogger: Ellen Gable Hrkach

November 24, 2008

I’ve mentioned here before that I decided early in the planning for the Festival of Hope that besides featuring the voices of writers, I also wanted to include some artists (and so we heard this month from Regina Doman and Lawrence Klimecki). 

Another aspect I wanted to be sure to include was the work of writers of fiction, and so we’re hearing from two novelists this month as well.  The first of the two is Ellen Gable Hrkach.  (The last name is pronounced “her cash.”)

Ellen is the author of Emily’s Hope, a novel about one young woman’s difficult journey to find faith, love, and hope.  

She is a also frequent contributor to Family Foundations and the author of the column “Sexually Speaking” at AmazingCatechists.com.   She and her husband, James, are certified teachers of Natural Family Planning for the Couple to Couple League.  Together they are at the helm of Full Quiver Publishing

Her post follows.  Below it you’ll find her novel as today’s book giveaway.  

(By the way, you will also find a new list of recent book giveaway winners below.)