Gathered together for this Birthday Celebration Mass for Helen in this chapel, so beautifully restored in honor and in memory of her parents, I wish to greet first Msgr. Rick Woy, Rector of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, together with the President of the University of Notre Dame in Maryland, Dr. Mary Lou Yam, and immediate past President, Mary Pat Seurkamp. I warmly greet Mac Passano, Helen’s loving husband of 44 years, and her daughters, Tammy, Catherine, and Sarah, as well as Helen’s many grandchildren, family, and friends. Please know that you have our love and support as we celebrate Helen’s birthday— her birth into this world and her birth into everlasting life. And let us do so by focusing on her life through the lens of the season of Advent and Christmas and this evening’s Scripture readings.
II. A Season of Hope
A. Advent is a wonderful time in the life of the Church. As we know, it marks the beginning of a new liturgical year, a time when we are called to open our hearts more widely to Christ as once again we remember and re-live the events of his life – his coming into the world, his teaching and miracles, his death and resurrection. And it is a time of heightened spiritual awareness when the Scripture passages we read reminds us not to be anxious about the future or so caught up in our pursuits and pleasures that we will fail to prepare our hearts to receive Christ – at Christmas, in our daily lives, and, indeed, at the end of our lives. Advent teaches us that, even amid the passing things of this world, we can draw closer to Christ and live more deeply in his love.
B. In other words, Advent beckons us to a true sense of Christian hope – not mere optimism that, in the end, everything will turn out all right, but rather an abiding trust in the Lord Jesus Christ that gives our lives meaning and purpose in this world, that broadens our horizons as we look toward the joy of heaven, a sense of Christian hope that gives our lives on earth its shape, its character, its sense of direction . . . qualities so evident in Helen’s life, as we shall see momentarily.
III. Christian Hope as Illustrated in Today’s Scripture Readings
A. Such hopefulness of Advent is illustrated in tonight’s Scripture readings. The reading from Isaiah, for example, is full of confidence in God and his promises. But the object of Israel’s hope was not merely a vague desire for a better world; no, Isaiah calls the people of Israel to put their hopes in the true and living God. who, even at a low-point in their history will raise up for them a leader, filled with the spirit of God, who will usher in a time of peace and justice. Isaiah fueled hopes that the ‘stump of Jesse’ would one day blossom, and that the Kingdom of God would dawn upon the earth.
B. In this evening’s second reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, St. Paul points to the enduring love and encouragement found in God’s Word: “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” As people of hope we are called to welcome one another in Christ, to attend to one another needs, and to find in our Savior oneness of mind and heart.
C. That hope grows brighter in the person of John the Baptist who preached repentance from sin in preparation for the coming of the Messiah. As we listen afresh to John’s message of repentance, our hearts should be full of hope. It’s not that we like to be told to reform our lives, to change our attitudes, or to adjust our priorities – most of us resist that message at one level or another. But if we listen carefully to John we hear him saying that our hearts really can be cleansed, really can be made ready to welcome into our hearts the One who is the object of our hope and our longing, the Son of God born of the Virgin Mary some 2,000 years ago. This is the Savior, for whom we are longing, the One whose love is stronger than sin and more powerful than death, the only One whose love fully satisfies the deepest desires of our hearts.
IV. Love and Hope in Helen’s Life
A. Certainly, this spirit of authentic Christian hope was reflected in Helen’s daily life. It was manifested in her warm and generous love for her wonderful family. Nothing brought more joy to Helen than Mac, her daughters, and her grandchildren; how she loved and respect her friends, so many of whom are here this evening. She saw in her family, friends, and colleagues not merely the earthly promise but indeed the promise of life eternal.
B. Helen also manifested her own spirit of hope by giving hope to so many through her many philanthropic deeds. From the restoration of this beautiful place of worship dedicated to her parents, to the building of the athletic center on campus, to improvements to the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Calvert School, and the Hopkins Downtown Center – Helen manifested a charity that was inspired by hope in the God of life and love. So many are indebted to her for her giving spirit and generous heart. I would say that Helen was a beacon of hope by giving so much of herself, whether it was in the form of monetary gifts or by giving of her time and talent, her wise counsel, and most of all her friendship.
A. So this evening, this time when we prepare to celebrate the Savior’s birth, let us also celebrate with joy and hopefulness Helen’s birth, as we give thanks for the spirit of joy and hopefulness she instilled in us. Inspired both by the season and by Helen’s generosity, we commend her to the Lord with the greatest confidence. This is also a moment to allow the Holy Spirit to refresh in us the theological virtue of hope implanted in our hearts on the day of Baptism. Let us be – like Isaiah, like Paul, like St. John the Baptist – and indeed like Helen – witnesses to a hope that spans time and eternity.
B. We bear witness to hope not by necessarily by writing a treatise on the subject but rather by availing ourselves of God’s mercy during the season of Advent: by striving in God’s grace to extend God’s forgiving love to all those around us, and by focusing, as did Helen, on reaching out to those who are in need, especially those who lack the necessities for a dignified human life or those whose lives would be dramatically improved by new opportunities for education, employment, or healthcare.
C. I take this occasion to wish you a blessed Advent and a joyous Christmas! May our celebration of his birth cheer our hearts with a joy the world cannot give. And may our celebration today of Helen’s birth into everlasting life be a source of consolation that instills in us the hope and joy at the coming of the Savior, born for us and for our salvation.
D. May God bless you and keep you always in his love.