Perhaps the most essential role of Christians – and therefore of religious – has always been and is today more than ever to give people hope. Have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that is in you (1 Pet 3:15).
Our culture is short on hope. Living for a number of years in a Third World country, I was struck by the contrast between the vibrant hope of those who have nothing and the hopelessness of those who have too much.There is widespread spiritual starvation in the Northern Hemisphere of our planet. Perhaps the most fund-amental question we can ask about any civilization or in any spirituality, is what do people hope for?
The symptoms of hopelessness are everywhere to be seen in our Western world: addiction, suicide, obsessive greed for everything from food to money; perversion and trivialization of sex, devaluation of marriage and of all enduring personal commitments, crisis in the religious ministry, abdication of parenting – and even of reproduction, to the point of zero growth levels in population, so that– especially in Northren Europe – whole nations have become like colonies of octo-genarian lemmings, hobbling headlong into the sea. All of this betokens a society which has massively lost hope.
Of course, hope is dangerous. Hope threatens the precarious security of the present moment, the gratification of bread, and circuses now. Hope is inseparable from growth, change, and creative insecurity. Hope is for those who travel lightly, risk-takers, pilgrims. Our culture craves absolute security now. This is our Achilles’ heel, and the terrorists have well understood that.
Hope is not proactive, which is another difficulty for a society where people are valued and value themselves in terms of achievement. “What you see is what you get.” And what you get is what I am worth. With hope – as opposed to ambition – the centre of gravity is elsewhere, and one must wait. Yet hope is not passive. It is not hand-folding resignation. Hope is profoundly dynamic, motivating, and empowering. This conviction lies at the heart of the Easter kerygma
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. By his great mercy has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith…You have not seen him, yet you love him; and even though you do not see him now you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1Pet 1:3–9).
Hope, centered on God and on the person of Jesus Christ, creates a real horizon of expectation: ambition focussed on our own limited objectives does not. Our call is to follow the Spirit, not to dream up and create a meaning for our own lives – if only because, in that self-centered perspective, we would always settle for too little. St. Paul so often drives home that message.
Glory to him whose power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine(Eph 3:20).
What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him(1 Cor 2: 9).
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit
To believe in the God of hope, to allow him to be God; to believe in Jesus Christ, the one whom He has sent: this is the basis of our hope, our peace, and our joy. We must grow into this mystery, rather than circle endlessly around our own trite certainties. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! Who has known the mind of the Lord?! St. Paul exclaims (Rom 11:33–34). But he also makes bold to claim that we have the mind of Chirst because we have received the gift of the Spirit, who alone knows the depths of God, and we are taught by that Spirit (1 Cor 2:11–16).
Paul constantly prays for our growth in knowledge, so that, with the eyes of our hearts enlightened, we can see what hope God’s call holds for us (Eph 1:18).
This witness is our primary role as Christians and as religious – irrespective of our particular circumstances. Perhaps the dimensions of community and the Word of God in the Liturgy take on a new and vital significance in this perspective.
* Condensed from Andrew Nugent, The Slow-Release Miracle, Columba Press (2006)