Pope Francis wrote a beautiful reflection on the Christmas crèche that serves as inspiration to us to give birth to hope in our encounters with others. The Christmas crèche, the Holy Father says, “speaks to us of the love of God, the God who became a child in order to make us know how close he is to every man, woman and child, regardless of condition” (“Admirabile Signum” “Enchanting Image”).
God gives birth to hope through the Incarnation of his Son. We, in turn, give birth to hope by spreading the Gospel, bearing glad tidings to all, engaging in practical works of mercy that give witness to the joy of knowing Jesus. We give birth to hope when we reach out to others most in need of hope now.
While unemployment in our nation is at a 50–year low, “its accompanying implication of prosperity is not spread like peanut butter across the nation,” observes Glenn Leach, a volunteer in the Diocese of Davenport’s Social Action Office. “In many rural areas, and much of the area of our diocese is rural, the economy is taking it on the chin.”
“If the farmer is hurting, everyone else is going to be hurting one way or another in a small town, the car dealership, the furniture store …. Bankers are dealing with their neighbors and their friends,” observes a parish leader in one of the Davenport Diocese’s rural communities.
In another part of the diocese, Deacon Dan Freeman of St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass sees increased isolation and loneliness in rural communities, much of it due to age and illness. These factors, coupled with the acrimonious debates raging in the public square, fuel stress. “We’ve lost some of our gratefulness,” Deacon Freeman says. The collective bitterness affects people’s outlook and ability to give birth to hope.
“We can think of all those times in our lives when we have experienced the darkness of night,” the Holy Father says in his reflection. “Yet even then, God does not abandon us, but is there to answer our crucial questions about the meaning of life….” When we bring Christ’s light to others, we give birth to hope.
Last Saturday, children and adults at St. Mary Parish in Iowa City participated in the 25th anniversary of a cookie production project that brings treats baked with love to homebound parishioners and people who have lost a loved one. Patti McTaggart, then a young youth minister at the parish, launched the cookie project in honor of her beloved father who died two months before Christmas. “I thought, if I can help somebody else feel loved or noticed maybe that would help me feel better about this season.” She recalled that one cookie package recipient remarked, “Oh, St. Mary’s hasn’t forgotten about me.” The cookie project gives birth to hope.
At St. Andrew Parish in Blue Grass, the Christian Service Committee is working on a way to reach out to individuals with specific needs, perhaps through a project similar to the Angel Tree. Parishioners would list needs privately on a slip of paper and hang them on an oak tree. Other parishioners would respond to those needs. A giving tree gives birth to hope.
On Thanksgiving Day, McAnthony Window, a meal site ministry of St. Anthony Parish in Davenport, served its first Thanksgiving meal because volunteers wanted to share a feast with the diners who have become a second family, said John Cooper, the parish’s pastoral associate and business manager. Two of the diners have also participated in a group Cooper formed, Fishers of Men, which meets the first Saturday of the month for breakfast and conversation. Feeding and befriending the hungry give birth to hope.
When someone needed to take over Catholic prison ministry at Iowa State Penitentiary, Deacon Bob Gengenbacher of Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison stepped in. He felt compelled to “bring Jesus, to bring the Gospel” to the prisoners. Priests of the deanery and other volunteers also serve in that ministry. Visiting people in prison gives birth to hope.
In the mid-1980s, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach launched a hotline “Iowa Concern” in response to the devastating farm crisis. Over the years, the hotline evolved to respond to people dealing with stress and crisis no matter their occupation or situation. Iowa Concern operates a toll-free number (1-800-447-1985) 24 hours a day, seven days a week year-round. The organization provides access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education as well as information and referral services.
Language interpretation services are also available. Visit the website at extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/. This hotline, which operates whenever people in distress need it, gives birth to hope.
Pope Francis describes the Christmas crèche as “part of the precious yet demanding process of passing on the faith.” He asks us to “open our hearts to this simple grace, so that from our wonderment a humble prayer may arise: a prayer of thanksgiving to God, who wished to share with us his all, and thus never to leave us alone.” The Christmas crèche is our call to give birth to hope.
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor