Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Homily Gaudete Sunday Year A 16 December 2007

Among the many saints canonized by John Paul II during his papacy
was African Josephine Bakhita.

She was born around 1869 in Darfur in Sudan.

At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders,
beaten, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan.

Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the family of a general,
and there she was flogged every day till she bled;
as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life.

Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant
for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani.
Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point,
Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master.”
In Venetian dialect, which she was now learning to speak,
she used the word “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ.

Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her.
Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters,
the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good…even “goodness in person.”
She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her,
that he actually loved her.
She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron.”
What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged
and now he was waiting for her “at the Father's right hand.”

Now she had “hope”…
no longer simply the hope of finding masters who would be less cruel,
but the great hope:
“I am definitively loved
and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love.
And so my life is good.”

Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed,”
no longer a slave, but a free child of God.

She understood what Saint Paul meant when he wrote to the Ephesians
that previously they were without hope and without God in the world…
without hope because without God.

On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed
and received her first Holy Communion
On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in religious life.

Josephine made journeys throughout Italy in order to promote the missions…
for she knew that the liberation that she had received
through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ
had to be handed on to others.

The hope born in her… which had “redeemed” her…she could not keep to herself;
this hope had to reach many…to reach everybody.

On November 30th, our Holy Father issued his second encyclical…
entitled Spe Salvi… “In Hope We Are Saved.”
The subject of the encyclical is the Christian virtue of hope.

The full text of the letter is available online…
and I shall offer a few reflections on the Holy Father’s teaching today.

Pope Benedict reflects that, throughout the New Testament,
the words “faith” and “hope” appear to be interchangeable.

Hope is equivalent to faith in the Epistles of the Early Church.

Before their encounter with Christ, the early Christians were without hope.
Those who came to know Christ…those who came to have faith in Him…
abandoned the worship of the ancient gods
and came to have hope in the one, true God.

The distinguishing mark of Christians is the fact that they have a future…
not that we know the precise details of what awaits us…
but that we know that our lives will not end in emptiness.

Because of our hope in what God has promised for our future…
it becomes possible to really live in the present.

The one who has hope lives differently.
For the faithful Christian,
the hope we have changes us…and inspires us to live for God.
The Gospel message is not merely “informative”…
not simply a bunch of information and things to be known…
though knowing our faith is an essential foundation for living.

Rather, in a much deeper way…the Gospel is “performative,”
it is a message that changes lives and makes things happen.

The people to whom Saint Paul preached were previously without hope…
because they were “without God in the world.”

Having heard the Gospel message…
and having experienced a real encounter with God…
they…like all who come to truly encounter God…find hope.

We have grown accustomed to the Christian understanding of God…
and often take Him and our relationship with Him for granted.

For this reason, Pope Benedict included the story of Josephine in his encyclical:
to give us an example of what it means to find God…
and thus to find hope…for the first time.

This Sunday is a unique day of joy in the life of the Church.

This Sunday is “Gaudete Sunday”…
a name which comes from the first word
of the introit antiphon for today’s Mass…
the antiphon which is often replaced by the opening hymn.

In Latin, the word is “Gaudete,” which means “rejoice!’

The joy of Christianity is supernatural…
for it is grounded in the beauty and splendor of our unique faith.

This “Gaudete Sunday” is a beacon of light in winter’s long darkness…
a moment of joy…and also of hope…
amid a season of preparation, and anticipation of the Birth of Jesus.

As we continue to prepare for Christmas…
we rejoice today precisely because we have hope that the Savior will come!

Hence also the “rose” colored vestments…

The scriptures today admonish us to
“Be strong, fear not!”
“Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand!”

Today we pray for the grace to experience God’s presence and love anew…
to rejoice as people who have come to know God all over again…
to celebrate this Christmas as if meeting Christ for the very first time…
and to bring others to Jesus by living the hope which wells up within us.

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