“I’m still waiting for my hearing.” I hear this often enough from the men I serve in the St. Joseph County Jail. In spending time with them after Faith Sharing or Mass the topic of conversation often goes to the fear of an imminent sentencing or the frustration of it having been delayed yet again. I’ve come to learn that few people know what it means to wait as well as those who are imprisoned. For some, despair and a quiet resignation set in. Living without any dreams for the future and knowing the pain of isolation they feel it will only be a matter of time after their release until they are brought in again. For others, a new energy, a new drive grips their hearts. They are the ones who have let themselves encounter Hope.
In this sacred season of Advent, a time of quiet reflection, we recall God’s first coming into our history, and look forward to His definitive return at the End of Time. Hearing the words of the prophets we put ourselves in the place of the People of Israel, enslaved in cruel exile, longing for the Messiah. We, who have been touched by Hope, allow ourselves to know that longing to be free, to be home again, that desperate desire to be in right relation with our God. We do this not out of nostalgia but from a very real knowledge that He is still coming. We wait every day for the God who comes to us, comes to destroy the chains that bind us, to tend to our misery and brokenness, and to wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Our Constitutions tell us that we must be Men with Hope to bring. This Advent I have experienced just how important our religious vocation is in the lives of those who are waiting to encounter Hope. For many it is not the catechetical teachings I share or the faith questions that I answer, but the Person I bring that invites them to change their lives. What I present is not a lecture or script but the Person who is Hope, Jesus Christ, in the fellowship that I share with them. By the radical unconditional love that the vows call me to, I seek to witness to the Kingdom. Through my vows I strive to point them to an encounter with the Hope that reverses failures, exchanges humiliations for blessings, dissolves anger, and transfigures routines.
Many are still waiting. And yet having encountered the Hope they are transformed. They eagerly await the day of reconciliation, healing, mercy, and a new life in the community of believers that is the Body of Christ. They who have experienced the Hope that will one day break their chains in this life look forward to that final encounter that will ultimately unite them in perfect community with God and His Church.
Felipe Campos Reséndez, C.S.C., is a first year temporarily professed at Moreau Seminary, and is a 2013 Notre Dame graduate. He is originally from Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico