This past Sunday Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., bestowed the Marian Medal on 70 parishioners from across the diocese. In his homily at the celebration of Vespers (Evening Prayer), after he had given each recipient their medal, the bishop spoke about how the assigned reading for vespers, St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians 4:4-9, was “a happy coincidence.” The bishop said that the reading expressed well the gratitude he had for these volunteers and he quoted a different translation of St. Paul’s words: “Everyone should know how unselfish you are.”

The bishop ordered the recipients: “Be contagious and spread like a good virus.” He described Advent as a time of year in which God turns “our world upside down. Only in our encounter with our own weaknesses and brokenness will we discover that God is with us always and that we are not alone and that only God can fulfill our longings. We can be Advent people, to turn our world upside down.”

Bishop da Cunha reminded the congregation that Advent affirms “our confidence and our hope in a world that can be different.” Earlier the bishop described the world as it is right now. “We live in a very difficult and challenging time, [marked by] secularism. When we remove God from our society, we become more self-centered.”

In the face of that gloom, the bishop said that he was “so encouraged by the goodness, faith and generosity of people like you.” He said that at the root of evil is “selfishness. Where there is love, there is no room for selfishness. Where there is selfishness, there is no room for love. Your kindness has shown light into this darkness.”

On Monday Pope Francis met with a group of young people in Athens and also spoke with them in dealing with the darkness of this world. “There are times when, faced with misunderstanding or the difficulties of life, with loneliness or disappointment, doubt can come knocking on the door of our heart. We can think: ‘Maybe something is wrong with me. I think I may have made a mess of things.’ That, my friends, is a temptation! A temptation to be rejected. The devil sows this doubt in our hearts in order to make us gloomy and depressed. What should we do? What can we do when that kind of doubt becomes stifling and persistent, when we lose confidence and no longer even know where to begin? We need to go back to the starting point. What is that starting point?”

The Holy Father then began with the ancient culture and asked the young people, “Do you know the starting point for all philosophy, but also for art, culture and science? All that began with a spark, a realization, captured in the magnificent word: thaumàzein. It began with wonder, with amazement. Philosophy emerged from the sense of wonder about things that exist, about our own lives, about the harmony of nature all around us, and about the mystery of life itself. Wonder, amazement, is the beginning not only of philosophy, but also of our faith. Frequently the Gospel tells us that when people encountered Jesus, they were amazed. In the encounter with God, amazement is always present, for it is the beginning of dialogue with God. And the reason is because faith is not primarily about a list of things to believe and rules to follow. In the deepest sense, faith is not an idea or a system of morality, but a reality, a beautiful truth that does not depend on us and that leaves us amazed: we are God’s beloved children! This is what faith is in its deepest sense: we are God’s beloved children!”

Then the pope spoke about when we fall into sin or despair God’s mercy. “[God] never abandons us. If we stand before a mirror, we may not see ourselves the way we would like, because we are too concerned with the things we don’t like. But if we stand before God, the perspective changes. We cannot help but be amazed that, for all our sins and failings, for Him we are, and always will be, His beloved children. So, instead of starting the day by looking in the mirror, why not open your bedroom window and focus on everything beautiful that exists, on the beauty that you see all around you? Go out of yourself. 

“Dear young people, think about this: if nature is beautiful in our eyes, in God’s eye each of you is infinitely more beautiful! Scripture says: ‘He has wondrously made us’ (cf. Ps 139:14). In God’s eyes we are a wonder. Allow yourself to be caught up in that wonder.”

Then the pope gave the sinners amongst us (which would be everyone) hope. 

“When you feel sorrow for something you have done, you should feel another kind of wonder: the wonder of forgiveness. I want to be clear about this: God always forgives. We can grow tired of asking for forgiveness, but He always forgives. In that wonder of forgiveness, we rediscover the Father’s loving face and peace of heart. He gives us a new beginning and He pours out His love in an embrace that lifts us up, dispels the evil we have done, restores the irrepressible beauty that is within us as His beloved children, and enables it to shine forth.”

Since he was in Greece, Pope Francis referred to one of the most famous characters in ancient literature, Odysseus (from Homer’s “The Odyssey”). “Like Odysseus on his voyage home, in the course of this life, which is an adventure-filled journey to the Father’s House, you, too, will come across sirens. In mythology, the sirens by their songs enchanted sailors and made them crash against the rocks. Today’s sirens want to charm you with seductive and insistent messages that focus on easy gains, the false needs of consumerism, the cult of physical wellness, of entertainment at all costs. All these are like fireworks: they flare up for a moment, but then turn to smoke in the air. I understand, they are not easy to resist. Do you remember how Odysseus did it, threatened by the sirens? He had himself tied to the ship’s mast. Another ancient figure, Orpheus, teaches us a better way. He sang a more beautiful melody than that of the sirens, and thus reduced them to silence. That is why it is important to cherish the wonder, the amazement, the beauty of faith! We are Christians not out of duty, but out of beauty. And precisely because we want to cherish that beauty, we have to say no to anything that would mar it. The joy of the Gospel, the wonder of Jesus, makes our sacrifices and struggles fade into the background.”