And, so, we begin a new year with new hope as we try to do at this time every year.
Perhaps, we’ve made a New Year’s resolution to change in some way, especially physically. Maybe we’ve gotten that Fitbit for Christmas and actually decided to put it to use and lose those unwanted pounds that we’ve acquired over time. Isn’t this why we see all those commercials that inundate our air waves pushing exercise equipment after Christmas and into January? You know, the ones that promise to give us six-pack abs, buns of steel, firmer whatever parts where we need firming up, and all because we’re so naïve and predictable.
Madison Avenue knows this. We’re pretty gullible. We spend so much time sitting on the couch watching inane programing and constant propaganda that our minds are somehow convinced purchasing a tread mill will somehow work its magic and lose weight for us even if we just eventually use it to hang the laundry on and brush the dust off it every once-in-a-while.
This is just wishful thinking.
What we need this year is hope.
I’m talking about real, honest-to-goodness, hope. This is not something that pours out of some politician’s mouth or an untested academic thesis. It is something we can believe in because it comes from above; something that penetrates through the thin veil between heaven and earth.
We can’t conjure this stuff up; we can’t, by the sweat of our brow, or how many steps we accomplish in a day on our Fitbit achieve it, even if we’ve fulfilled our New Year’s resolution and lost those “love handles.”
Why? Because hope is a gift. But it’s a gift that cannot be purchased; it cannot be bought and paid for. It can only be asked for, prayed for, begged for on bended knee, sacrificed for – because sometimes that’s what it takes – and then accepted for what it is.
The Present We Left Under the Tree
Maybe it was covered underneath so many pine needles we didn’t notice it; perhaps it was the one gift we chose to ignore and didn’t want to open because it would nag us to do the right thing for once. This is our escape plan: to run away from the things that challenge and beguile us; our addictions, our comfort zones, our fly away places in our daily lives that ultimately trap us and confine us to places so small that we can no longer grow but lie hidden beneath our covers afraid of the coming dawn. So, we don’t really change at all, but continue to ride on our merry-go-rounds in a futile search for the ever evasive brass ring.
The one thing we cannot do with the gift of hope is re-gift it. Because either we accept it wholeheartedly, or we have to throw it away. It is not in our power to give it to someone else. Let’s understand this more fully from a quote by C. S. Lewis:
“Hope is one of the Theological Virtues. This means that a continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.”
Hope, like faith and charity, are gifts lovingly given. If opened and appreciated and embraced, it can lead to wonderful things. Things that you and I are not coerced to do, but may want to do of our own volition because we want to reciprocate this love. This is how much our Creator cares for us. How much He respects us. How much He loves us. How much He sees us, not as little children, unable to make responsible decisions, but as thinking, feeling, compassionate people who choose freely and are given every right to do so.
Now, let’s look at a little bit of history that changed the world and may very well change yours.
“My Son Let’s His Heart Be Touched”
It was 1871, and the Franco-Prussian War was raging for over a year now. The bravado of the French military establishment, led by Napoleon III, had resulted in nothing but defeat. As early as January of that year, Paris itself was under siege. The German Chancellor, Otto Von Bismarck, had scored a coup d’état in besting the French. His armies even managed to capture Napoleon, which forced France to change its government during the war. Prince Bismarck’s “Realpolitik” would dominate European policies and politics for thirty years, eventually laying the groundwork for World War I.
The “Iron Chancellor” had won but at what price? He had, for decades, been at war, politically, with the Church of Rome in order to secure a German Federalist state. In order to do this he imprisoned clerics and enacted laws to coerce the Catholic Church to obey him. This laid the groundwork for a future chancellor of Germany who would reattempt this in the next century. History never changes.
And it was on January 17, 1871, in a small village called Pontmain, lying in the path of an advancing Prussian army that a miracle occurred. A miracle only children could see.
Two boys, Joseph, 10, and Eugene, 12, were helping their father doing chores in the barn. Eugene, curious as to the weather that night and the coming day, opened the door to look at the sky. He immediately saw a vision:
“She has a blue dress with golden stars, gold-ribboned slippers, a golden crown widening towards the top with a red band around it, and a black veil.”
Joseph came out and promptly saw the apparition. But their parents could not. Others were summoned to the barn, including a religious sister and the parish priest. None, but the children could see her.
As more of the villagers arrived, they began to pray, first the rosary, then the Magnificat. Then the crowd began to sing.
“You’re right to pray!” Joseph Babin, a carter by trade, shouted to them, after he had come by horseback from the front of the lines. “The Prussians have arrived at Laval.”
And as the vanguard of the Prussian Army reached deeper into French territory and threatened the little town of Pontmain, the local peasants prayed and sang before the vision of the Mother of God without questioning a word the children had said to them about the miraculous vision they were seeing.
It was now past seven o’clock, yet the Lady still dominated the sky for the children to see. Only now things began to change. “A blue oval with four unlit candles appeared around the beautiful Lady. Also, a small red cross was to be seen on her dress at the place where the heart was. The beautiful Lady became sad. A few minutes later, she smiled again and as the prayers became more fervent, she grew slowly in size. The oval also grew and the stars multiplied.
“A big white banner unrolled under the feet of the beautiful Lady and then a word(s) appeared letter by letter: ‘OH! DO PRAY MY CHILDREN GOD WILL ANSWER YOU VERY SOON.’ The message finished with ‘MY SON LETS HIS HEART BE TOUCHED.’”
The crowd began to sing the hymn Mother of Hope and the Lady lifted her arms and seemed to keep time to the music with her hands, smiling and laughing. Then, a star appeared and lit the four candles inside the oval. It was just about nine-o’clock when the vision slowly disappeared.
That very night, the Prussian armies ceased their advance. The town of Pontmain was never attacked. Within a week an armistice was signed ending the war. Within a year, the bishop of Laval issued a pastoral letter granting official Church recognition and approval.
Mercy and Hope
Because Jesus, according to Our Lady of Hope, “let’s His Heart be touched,” by our prayerful voices and supplications we are assured of His benevolent and divine mercy towards us. The Vicar of Christ on earth has designated a Jubilee Year of Mercy across the globe and this should be our standard, our new, ever unfurling banner in 2016, proclaiming to the world that in mercy there is hope.
Once again, the wisdom of C.S. Lewis:
Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.
At present we are on the outside… the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the pleasures we see. But all the pages of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. Someday, God willing, we shall get ‘in’… We will put on glory… that greater glory of which Nature is only the first sketch.
We do not want to merely ‘see’ beauty – though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.
Amen. God bless you and bestow upon you and yours His great gift of hope in the coming year. Unwrap this gift, recognize it for what it is. Bathe yourself in it. Let it become part of you.
(Quotations are from sanctuaire-pontmain.com).