This Christmas, Remember JPII’s Words: ‘Never, Ever Give Up on Hope’

In times of growth and decline, amid times of contentment and chaos, the Catholic Church has never wavered in presenting hope.

 Cosimo Gamberucci, “Nativity,” 1618
Cosimo Gamberucci, “Nativity,” 1618 (photo: Public Domain)

The noise of today’s world, including the bombardment of social media and constant news of horrible events, is loud. We can easily find ourselves this Christmas season in a place of unrest, a place of great confusion.

Even our spiritual home, the Church, can make us uneasy with confusion over priorities and how we as a Church and the faithful are supposed to preach the truth with love. In a time when we celebrate the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, who is love himself, we may find ourselves asking many questions: How do I love? How do I stay the course? How and where do I place my trust? 

As a millennial American who has been immensely blessed by her experience of the Church in America, I feel called to answer these questions by letting my experience be a testimony and defense for the hope that is within me.

Why hope? Our first pope, St. Peter, reminds us, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.” Two thousand years later, we are invited to live this same call of hope. 

Pope St. John Paul II famously implored the Church, “I plead with you — never, ever give up on hope; never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” Pope Benedict, who died one year ago, likewise wrote an entire encyclical on the theological virtue of hope, Spes Salvi. If you have never read this beautiful writing of the Church, please make it part of your Christmas season reading this year. 

This call to live “transformed by hope” is more than simple optimism or naively wanting to stay the course with blindfolds covering the areas of possible despair. Hope must be the battle cry of the Christian in a fallen world. In an effort to follow the guidance of our first pope, I will look at my reasons for hope. 

Being a part of the Pope Benedict generation (I was in seventh grade when he was elected), I had the great benefit of reaping the fruits of the previous generation and the gift St. John Paul II was to the Church. Many of my youth group leaders, the speakers at our retreats, the existence of Steubenville conferences, and so on, were a direct result of St. John Paul II’s call to “be not afraid” and “open wide the doors to Christ.” Catholics who were formed in the authentic truth of the human person, who understood Christ to be incarnational, bringing his physical presence to us in the Eucharist, were drawn to follow the Church’s call for the New Evangelization. 

This same generation went on to enter seminaries and religious communities, establish ministries, get married and have families, and help build their parishes with a culture of encounter. 

In my lifetime alone, I saw the shift from the belief that the sacraments and mysteries of the Church were boring and needed to be “made exciting” to entertain the faithful, to a recognition of the beauty of the sacred, the necessity of the sacraments and the graces of Eucharistic adoration and immersion in the Divine.

While the Church in the U.S. must continue to seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not grow complacent in its proclamation of the truth, it does seem to be misunderstood. The statistics don’t lie: Fewer baptized Catholics are regularly going to church, and Catholics have become almost as polarized as the political parties.

But there are still signs of hope. One only has to look at the number of people attending a FOCUS conference (17,000 Catholics in 2023), the tremendous growth of religious orders such as the Sisters of Life, the National Eucharistic Revival, or the growth in the number of ministries seeking to promote healing and relationship with Christ, such as the work of our ministry, CMF CURO, and many of our partners — including the JP2 Healing Center, Endow Ministries and the Avila Institute to name a few. The Church in America may be shrinking but it is far from dead, and it remains a place of authentic encounter with the Eucharistic Lord. 

Even looking at recent statistics, there is reason for hope. While it is true that we must continue to pray for vocations, with many dioceses having to look at consolidating parishes for lack of number of priests, we still have many men entering seminaries. St. Paul Seminary in Minneapolis experienced record growth in 2023 and recently reported “its largest one-year increase in enrollment since 1975, going from 70 seminarians to 90 seminarians.” Similarly, the Diocese of Phoenix is opening its own seminary, with 36 men in formation. 

Hope is also seen when looking at the rest of U.S. Catholic youth. While it is true that college is a time when many students wander from their faith, with startling statistics saying that close to 70% of those who identified as Christians leave their faith during college, we are also seeing a tremendous renewal of faith and the authentic living out of faith during college. The enrollment numbers at Catholic colleges in the Newman Guide and the Register’s annual “Catholic Identity College Guide” — schools that have been vetted for having “strong policies and standards that uphold Catholic identity from academics and athletics to faculty hiring and campus life” — are growing at astounding rates. 

Benedictine College, my alma mater, is one such school. In 1991, the college hit its lowest enrollment, with around 570 students. This year they have more than 2,200. The school attributes this success to its Catholic identity and how it has followed St. John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution on higher education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae.

The mission of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), and the fact that it is now present on 193 campuses in the United States, proclaims this same truth. There is hope amid the darkness. The youth of America desire truth, and the Church in America is finding beautiful ways to bring Christ to the battlefield. 

The Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, continues to invite humanity to encounter Christ, the Good Shepherd himself. While this will be a perpetual journey for the Church, not just in America but around the world, and one that will not be complete until we are in Heaven, there is abundant reason for hope. 

In 2021, the most downloaded podcast in America was from a Catholic priest, bringing Scripture and the Tradition of the Church to an understandable level. Americans want to learn the truths of the Catholic faith and grow deeper in their relationship with God. 

In times of growth and decline, amid times of contentment and chaos, the Catholic Church has never wavered in presenting hope. This is a virtue we must turn to this Christmas season.