Reflection on the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Shortly after I returned from my time in the U.S. I met with a friend of mine, a bright, preceptive woman in her mid-sixties. I had been away from the middle of October to late November, and though I had kept an eye to the Irish papers, I wasn’t following events in this country too closely. My friend surprised me by saying:
“You were lucky to be out of this country”. When I asked why, she said: “The atmosphere has been horrible. Everything has been so negative, so much criticism, anger, abuse. Nobody seems to have a good word to say about anyone anymore. Between the incompetence of the people in power, the endless abuse from the opposition, and the incessant cynicism from media, I found that, for the sake of my own mental health, I had to turn off the radio and television and stop reading the papers”.
A few days back, and I could see what she was talking about, and since then I have largely adopted the same policy as herself.

In my years of priestly ministry I used to love the Advent season. Celebrating Mass on the Sundays of Advent, especially during a mission or some similar event, was a bit special for me. I think that had a lot to do with the notion of hope that is so strong in the Advent readings. I’m thinking especially of my favourite Old Testament writer, the Prophet Isaiah. His figurative images of a hopeful future are both colourful and appealing. He talks, for example, of a time when there will be peace in the animal kingdom, with the lamb and the lion resting together. He tells of a future when there will be no more sadness, but enduring joy. The media cynics would make short work of these types of images, and the naivety of those who believe in them, as they continue to forecast a future of hopelessness and despair.

Of the three great Christian virtues, faith, hope and love, I have always considered that hope is the most important of all. I am writing this on the shortest day of the year, and where I live it has been a dark, wet day, and the night has closed in now with heavy rain and wind. If a person hadn’t got something to believe in, something that gives hope for the future, it would be very easy to sink into despair and a sense of meaninglessness. All the indications are that more and more people in our country are doing just that. I don’t expect I would get much of a hearing from our regular media commentators if I suggested they are contribute to the problem by their constant negativity and cynicism. But I believe they are.

All of which is part of the reason why I believe that our country at present is more in need of the liberating message of Christianity than ever before. But for too long, due to our obsession with doctrinaire uniformity, the message has come across as enslavement rather than liberation. Francis is doing his best. Let’s hear more of his hopefulness from the Irish Church.