by Sr. Joan Delaplane
"Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence." [I Peter 3:15]
Many have described our age as an age of malaise, of quiet desperation, of fear and anxiety. Listening to the news each evening, or reading our papers each morning, we can readily understand why some would respond with pessimism, cynicism, if not despair. We live in an age of violence and threats of war; an age filled with anxieties about the economy and ecology, about corporate greed and clergy guilt; anxieties about broken relationships and neglected responsibility, about diminished health and energy with increased costs of insurance and drugs.
I find it common today to hear people say, "I just can't look at the news anymore. I get so depressed. It's just too overwhelming." There is a feeling of powerlessness, up against a brick wall. There is a sense that there s no way out for us. In such a time, one must begin by naming the anger, the sadness, the guilt, the pain, and most of all, as in the Twelve Steps, name the sense of powerlessness. Then, in faith, recall that what is beyond all human capability and striving is not beyond our God. "Nothing is impossible with God." [Luke 1:37]
"Be ready to give an account for the hope that is in you." It's a Saturday morning after a Bad Friday, and we see eleven burly fishermen huddled together, depressed, overwhelmed with guilt, anxiety and fear, facing impasse, their dreams shattered. Then on Sunday morning, seven words, and the eleven and the world will never be the same. "He has risen; he is not here!" Words and a reality that, by a gift of the Spirit, changed their lives and changed ours. Because of one s faith in the Resurrection, we believe that Love has truly conquered hatred and evil, Life has overcome death. Hope calls those baptized into the mission of Jesus, therefore, to trust in the gift of His Spirit, and let God's grace work in us and through us so that "where sin abounds, grace may more abound." [Romans 5:20]
We are not talking about pie-in-the-sky optimism that does not look reality in the eye. We are talking about hope that sees with the eyes of faith and love. Jurgen Moltmann, a German theologian said that we come to know the truth of hope "...if we are forced to stand our ground against despair. We come to know its power when we realize that it keeps us alive in the midst of death." Or as the poet Tagore put it, "Hope is like the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark."
St. Augustine tells us that of the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and love, the greatest of these is hope. By faith we know God is, says Augustine; by love we know God is Good; by hope we know God will work God's will. And hope, says Augustine, has two lovely daughters: anger and courage. Anger so that what must not be cannot be, and courage so that what can be will be. What must not be? A people who have exchanged the God of the Covenant for the false gods of power, prestige, possessions; who have forgotten that all is gift and have allowed greed and arrogance and domination to rule. "It must not be so among you," says Jesus.
What Moltmann wrote in 1980 reverberates with a strong message for 2002: "By securing what they possess against the claims of the poor nations, the rich ones are destroying their own future and burying their own hope.. . .As long as our future drives other people to despair, as long as our prosperity means poverty for others, as long as our ‘growth destroys nature, anxiety, not hope, will be our daily companion." Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement, once said, "No one has a right to sit down and feel helpless. There s too much work to do."
If every frightened, paralyzed follower of Christ, hiding in their upper rooms, were to open themselves to the gift and grace of hope, given by the Spirit, might we not see a transformation of this country's values before it is too late? Might not the anger and courage proceeding from this hope make a difference right here? The action might be as simple as a phone call or letter to our legislators, or getting out to the polls to vote. We need to remember, of course, that as long as we Christians just talk about a kingdom of peace and justice, the world will tolerate us. Action to bring it about and to undo oppressive structures will be another thing. Just ask Jeremiah; just ask Jesus; just ask Martin Luther King or Oscar Romero!
"Be ready to give an account for the hope that is in you." That hope for us is rooted in the same hope and trust that Jesus had: the strong belief that God is faithful. God will always be God for us. Dr. Scott Hahn in his book, 'A Father Who Keeps His Promises', tells how on December 7, 1998, in Northwest Armenia, 25,000 people died in an earthquake. A distressed father ran frantically through the streets to the school where his son was. He kept remembering that he had said: "No matter what, Armand, I'll always be there." His heart sank when he saw the school in rubble. He darted toward the east corner where he knew his son's classroom had been and started digging with his bare hands. One of the bystanders said, "Forget it, mister, they're all dead." He looked up and replied, "You can criticize me or you can help lift these bricks." A few pitched in for a time, but the man kept digging: 12 hours, 18 hours, 24 hours, 36 hours—and finally he heard a muffled groan. He pulled the board back and cried, "Armand!" From the darkness came a slight, shaking voice, "Papa?" They found 14 of the 33 students still alive. When Armand emerged he turned to his friends and said, "See, I told you my father wouldn't forget us." Dr. Scott Hahn who told the story said: "That's the kind of faith [and hope] we need, because that's the kind of Father we have."
That's the kind of trust and hope that sustained Jesus in the excruciating aloneness and suffering on a dark Friday afternoon. When we are up against the seeming impossible, when we want to cry out, "God, our God, why you abandoned us?" we remember early Sunday morning, and then we are ready to tell others the reason for the hope within us. This Risen Christ has said, "I am with you always, until the close of the age." [Matthew 28:20].
"We are called to hope!" says Moltmann. "Let us go forth from our anxieties and learn to hope from the Bible. Let us reach out beyond our limitations in order to find a future in a new beginning. Let us take no more account of barriers. But only of the One who broke the barriers down. He is risen. Christ is risen indeed. He is our future."
About the Author:
Sr. Joan Delaplane is Professor Emerita of Preaching at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis, Missouri. Joan is a Spiritual Director, a well-known retreat preacher, and the recipient of the 2001 Great Preacher award from Aquinas Institute of Theology.
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