We Dare to Hope
(Part 2 of 2)
In part one of this reflection, I wrote that we much believe our collective Christian narrative, and then we need to tell our story. Here let me say a few things about what sharing our Christian hope might look like.
First, we take the opportunities that present themselves to us in our personal lives. The late Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thaun, who spent 13 years imprisoned in North Vietnam, nine of them in solitary confinement, wrote in the Road of Hope
You have to make sacrifices when you live in the midst of people who differ from you politically, socially, and ideologically. But look at the example of Jesus. He who is God chose to live among humanity in thirty-three years of continual sacrifice.
If you were being tortured, you could adopt one of two attitudes: “This person is destroying me,” or “By this person I am becoming a sacrifice.”
While everyone else would say, “This person is a cause of misfortune,” you could say, “This person is the instrument by which I am being transformed.”
He went on to give some quite ordinary examples of what he meant by those words:
Perhaps you think you have nothing to sacrifice, but do you reject the opportunities that present themselves? For example, be happy and jovial when someone who ridicules you or tries to make you angry; be silent in the face of false and unjust accusations; show love to a friend who betrays you; do not utter an angry word in retaliation. Every single moment is full of opportunities for sacrifice.
As his comments suggest, our opportunities to convey hope don’t have to involve grand gestures. We always want the one big thing that will fix everything. Remember, though, that Jesus did not snap his fingers and eradicate blindness or deafness. He could have; he was God, after all. Instead, he allowed a blind man to see. A deaf man to hear. Jesus didn’t solve the problems of all the wedding parties that ran out of wine. He changed water into wine at one wedding party. One may wonder whether these individual acts made a difference in the grand scheme of things. But these small signs conveyed hope.
Refuse to Be Demoralized
Second, conveying our hope means we refuse to be demoralized by what we see around us. In Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen wrote:
Cynics seek darkness wherever they go. They point always to approaching dangers, impure motives, and hidden schemes. They sneer at enthusiasm, ridicule spiritual fervor, and despise charismatic behavior. People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim that the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness. They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God.
There is a Leonard Cohen song titled “Everybody Knows.” Its lyrics include lines like “Everybody knows the dice are loaded…everybody knows the good guys lost… everybody knows the poor stay poor and the rich stay rich… everybody knows the deal is rotten… everybody knows the plague is coming. …That’s how it goes, everybody knows.”
What we as Christians say is that may be how it is now, but it is not how it has to be. And we are called to do our part to help secure a more just society. Although it is correct to say that “the arc of the moral universe…bends toward justice,” as Martin Luther King used to say, it isn’t going to bend that way on its own accord. It requires our efforts. That means our hope is not passive, but the fuel we need to do our part.
There is a Talmud passage that I have always found powerful. It says, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” We can mourn for the injustice in the world. But we can’t stop there. We must do our part to address it.
Conduct Yourself with Hope
Third, we have to remember that how we conduct ourselves matters to our ability to meaningfully convey hope to the world. Cardinal Van Thuan instructs us to act in such a way that others will realize, “This is a person stepped in one book, the Gospel, and inspired by one ideal, the life of Jesus Christ.”
In the same vein, Timothy Radcliffe writes, “Christianity is the good news that God created us for happiness, and ultimately for the happiness that is God being God. But we cannot be convincing witnesses to this if Christians are seen as miserable and inhibited.” Why would people want to hear the message of Christianity if we walk around looking like we are miserable?
Dare to Hope with the Church
Fourth, we need to keep that same hope with regard to our church. On this subject Cardinal Van Thuan reminds us that in the centuries that have passed since Jesus called Peter the rock on which his church would be built, there have been many crises, many periods when the Church was in desperate condition. “Yet the Church still stands firm because it is the Church of God and not a mere human institution.” Despite betrayal by “apostles, popes, cardinals, bishops, priests, religious, and lay people…. the Church has renewed itself and become ever more fresh and brilliant and strong.”
*The title We Dare to Hope, comes from a prayer written by Linda Jones, with that same title:
We dare to imagine a world where hunger has no chance to show its face.
We dare to dream of a world where wars and terror are afraid to leave their mark.
We long to believe in a world of hope unchained and lives unfettered.
We dare to work for the creation of a world where your people are free from poverty. Your Kingdome come, O Lord, Your will be done. Amen.
That is what we Christians do – we dare to hope. Not only that, but we dare to share that hope with the world, giving it something for which is it thirsting. We dare to point beyond what is to what can be. And, we dare to commit ourselves to doing our part, with the grace of the Spirit working within us, in bringing about the reality described in Jones’ prayer.
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