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In the days and weeks after Christmas there always seems to be a lot of sales, as companies try to unload some of their excess inventory. Often the ads for these sales are accompanied by the phrases, “limited number in stock” or “this won’t last long.” As I listened to one of these ads a few days ago, I couldn’t help but wonder if many people are feeling that “hope” is one of those things that is in limited supply these days. I say this, because as I write this, our U.S. Capital has just been attacked and ransacked by an angry mob. And while vaccinations have begun, we are still in the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic. Additionally, there are still no signs that we will be returning to normal—whatever that normal might be—any time soon.
In regard to “hope” I think it is I important to distinguish hope from optimism. Optimism is often based on feelings or possibilities—what one can see or intuit. Unlike optimism, however, hope is not based on our view of or interpretation of current events. Rather, hope is a theological virtue in which we trust in the promises of God, as we make our way through the world, and seek to be open to God’s grace. Where optimism is based on human events and/or our interpretation of those events, hope is based on God’s love for us—revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of God’s son, Jesus Christ.
In his letter to the Romans St. Paul wrote: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees. But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.” (Rom. 8:24-25) I think these words speak very specifically to our current situation. They remind us that we dare to hope because of God’s love for us. Because of this love, we are not to give ourselves over to worry or anxiety. Rather in whatever situation we might find ourselves, we have reason to hope because of God’s abiding love for us revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.
It should not be surprising that in our Christian tradition, the anchor is a symbol for hope and steadfastness. The source for this symbol is found in Hebrews 6:18b-19 "We who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to hold fast to the hope that lies before us. This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure, and firm.” Our experience of God’s love, and our hope in God’s promise are the anchors that hold us firm amidst the changing tides and circumstances of our lives.
Many years ago in grade school we had to memorize the Acts of Faith, Hope, and Love. I confess I had to look up the Act of Hope, but as soon as I read it the words came rushing back to me. “O my God, relying on your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of your grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.” Given all that is going on in our world today, I think it would be good for all of us to remember and cling fast to our hope in God. And it wouldn’t hurt to pray the Act of Hope on a regular basis.
It is winter, it is cold, we are waiting for another round of snow to blow in this afternoon. It is, as I write this, the end of 2020, those last few days when I spend time reflecting and writing or at least considering resolutions in preparation for the New Year. From a number of vantage points, I have reason to ring in and welcome January 1, 2021. I have many things I desperately wish to say good bye to. There are many changes and improvements to which I look forward, for which I am planning , for which I am consistently praying. I am in a word, hopeful. And yet, will the word January replacing the word December really bring all this about? It seems a great deal to expect.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, was and is a sign unto us. So yes, it seems it is true, a word can, indeed does make that much difference; only, rather than the word January, the Word, I think, is Jesus. My reason for such hope, rather the dropping of a crystal ball and midnight fire works, is the dwelling in me and in each of us of Jesus Christ.
We read in (1 JN:2) that the darkness is passing away and the light is already shining . In that reading, I am told in that if I love my sisters and brothers, I will remain in the light and nothing will make me fall. Conversely, in the same reading I am told that if I hate my sisters and brothers, I am and will be in darkness.
I hope for important things in 2021, so my resolution, I feel, is important; and must be more than self promises with regard to exercise and nutrition, books to read and minimalism to embrace. My important resolution will be to stay in the Light that John speaks of. That is so straightforward… and often so very difficult. I need resources to teach and inform me about my biases and prejudices so that I am able to truly love all my sisters and brothers. I need to actively work to show that love. I need opportunities to pray for justice, I need to embrace the person of Jesus, embrace the light I am offered. I need my Basilica community to work with me. And most thankfully, I have that. It is still January as you read this, it is time for more light, indeed, it is already shining.
The Basilica of Saint Mary