Scripture commentary for Sunday, Dec. 4


Readings for December 4

Second Sunday in Advent

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11; 2 Peter 3:8-14;  Mark 1:1-8

Today’s Gospel describes the ministry of St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus Christ. Jesus will later describe John as a “light, which burned brightly.” Jesus Christ is himself the light of the world, which the darkness can never overcome. While there are many things to be concerned about in our modern world, Advent is a season of hope, as we prepare for the birth of the savior, the source of all our hope. This hope is not blind optimism, but something much deeper and stronger, the theological virtue of hope.

“The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church” provides that “hope is the theological virtue by which we desire and await from God eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit to merit it and to persevere to the end of our earthly life.”

The virtue of hope primarily concerns our eternal salvation, despite our sins, past and perhaps ones we still struggle with, we maintain a steadfast hope in God’s mercy. Pastorally, hope is especially important when we struggle with habitual sin: those sins that we confess practically every time we go to confession. Even deliberate venial sins that we never seem to be able to conquer can be discouraging and can tempt us to stop confessing regularly, thinking (wrongly) “what’s the point, I never seem to change.” But we must call upon the virtue of hope and resolve to never give up; even the most stubborn sins can be uprooted if we persevere and do our part to be freed from sin.

The example of the saints helps us because even they, being human, had their struggles. St. Jerome struggled with the sin of anger, unleashing vicious diatribes even against his fellow doctors of the church, such as St. Augustine. St. Teresa of Avila lost her patience on several occasions.  Some saints, like St. John Vianney, struggled with discouragement. But they never gave up the struggle to improve spiritually, and they never lost hope. St Augustine taught that the most important grace of all is the grace of perseverance.

As Catholics, we need the virtue of hope for some of our family members, some of whom are away from the church, and perhaps have lost their faith altogether. Many good Catholics bear the bitter cross of their children or grandchildren falling away from the faith in this terrible age of disbelief. I do not say “age of disbelief” to paint a darker than necessary picture, but anyone who reads history knows that God and religion are more marginalized now than in any previous age. Widespread atheism is strictly a modern phenomenon, and it helps to call this to mind and realize that it is no wonder that our children are sometimes casualties of the our age’s spiritual malaise.

In his encyclical on hope, “In Hope We Were Saved,” Pope Benedict XVI writes that the modern world holds out false hope to people, telling us to place our faith and hope in the work of our hands, in science or technology as if we could live forever. This of course is false and leads to despair ultimately. By contrast, Christian hope “consists in the knowledge of God, in the discovery of his heart as a good and merciful Father.”

The Pope adds that Jesus “has revealed to us his countenance, the countenance of a God so great in love as to communicate to us an indestructible hope, a hope that not even death can crack, because the life of those who entrust themselves to this Father always opens onto the perspective of eternal beatitude.”

And so we place our hope for ourselves and our loved ones in God’s never-failing providence and goodness. And we turn to Blessed Mother, who gave hope to the world by bringing forth our blessed Redeemer.

Father Grimm is administrator of Holy Spirit Parish in New Castle.