Hope never disappoints

Beginning last December 7, Pope Francis has been giving a series of talks at his weekly Wednesday general audiences on the theme of Christian hope. In the inaugural talk back on Pearl Harbor Day, he said, “Christian hope is very important, because hope never disappoints. Optimism disappoints, but hope does not! We have such need, in these times which appear dark, in which we sometimes feel disoriented at the evil and violence which surrounds us, at the distress of so many of our brothers and sisters. We need hope! We feel disoriented and even rather discouraged, because we are powerless and it seems this darkness will never end.”

It might be a good meditation to read these talks (the 17th of which the Holy Father delivered this week) in conjunction with Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha’s first pastoral letter to us, “Rebuilding in Faith and Hope,” which you can read in this edition of The Anchor.

Pope Francis, after noting the dim picture of the world around us, said, “We must not let hope abandon us, because God, with His love, walks with us. ‘I hope, because God is beside me’: we can all say this. Each one of us can say: ‘I hope, I have hope, because God walks with me.’ He walks and He holds my hand. God does not leave us to ourselves. The Lord Jesus has conquered evil and has opened the path of life for us.”

Since the Holy Father was speaking in Advent, he made reference to John the Baptist’s time in the desert: “Life is often a desert, it is difficult to walk in life, but if we trust in God it can become beautiful and wide as a highway. Just never lose hope, just continue to believe, always, in spite of everything. It is the little ones with God, with Jesus, who transform the desert of exile, of desperation and loneliness, of suffering, into a level plain on which to walk in order to encounter the glory of the Lord. Let us be confident as we await the coming of the Lord, and what the desert may represent in our life — each one knows what desert he or she is walking in — it will become a garden in bloom. Hope does not disappoint!”

What the pontiff said then ties in well with what our bishop urged us to do towards the end of his pastoral letter: “As we seek to rebuild the Church — materially and Spiritually — we embrace a ‘theology of abundance’ which reminds us that God has given us everything we need to cultivate, water and plant the seeds of growth in our diocese.” SS. Martha and Mary embraced this theology in the Gospel we heard last Sunday (Jn 11:1-45), when they demanded that Jesus do something for their brother Lazarus, even though he was already dead. 

The sisters in Bethany did not limit themselves to asking for what seemed possible. Due to their having spent time listening to the Lord (Mary always did this, Martha learned to do this after Jesus corrected her when she complained about Mary not helping in the kitchen), they had “come to believe” that Jesus was the Son of God and that He could bring the dead back to life. We need to have this type of Christian hope as we work together in faith and hope to rebuild our diocese. We cannot be like the donkey Eeyore from the Winnie the Pooh books, always pessimistic. However, we also are not called to be Pollyannas, who merely have optimism, which is not rooted in Christian hope, the hope rooted in the cross and the Resurrection. 

In his second talk on hope (Dec. 14, 2016), the pope said, “God has not abandoned His people, and He has not left them to be vanquished by evil, because He is faithful, and His grace is greater than sin. We must learn this, because we are stubborn and do not learn. However, I ask: what is greater, God or sin? God! And which is victorious to the end? God or sin? God. Is He able to defeat the most serious, most shameful, the most terrible sin, the worst of sins? With what weapon does God defeat sin? With love! This means that ‘God reigns’; these are the words of faith in a Lord Whose power bends down to humanity, stoops down, to offer mercy and to free man and woman from all that disfigures in them the beautiful image of God, for when we are in sin, God’s image is disfigured.” To rebuild our diocese in faith and hope requires humility on our part, realizing that we need to turn away from our sinfulness so that we can collaborate in God’s plan here in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Pope Francis continued, “The fulfillment of so much love will be the very Kingdom instituted by Jesus, that Kingdom of forgiveness and peace which we celebrate at Christmas, and which is definitively achieved at Easter. And the most beautiful joy of Christmas is that interior joy of peace: the Lord has remitted my sins, the Lord has forgiven me, the Lord has had mercy on me, He came to save me. This is the joy of Christmas! These are, brothers and sisters, the reasons for our hope. When everything seems finished, when, faced with many negative realities, and faith becomes demanding, and there comes the temptation which says that nothing makes sense anymore, behold instead the beautiful news brought by those swift feet (cf. Isa 52:7): God is coming to fulfill something new, to establish a Kingdom of peace. God has ‘bared His arm’ and comes to bring freedom and consolation. Evil will not triumph forever; there is an end to suffering. Despair is defeated because God is among us.”

Let us roll up our sleeves along with God and begin the work of rebuilding, always rooted in faith and hope.

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