Medical science tells us that we can survive up to six weeks without food, about three days without water and for almost 10 minutes without oxygen.
How long can we survive without hope? Experience suggests that without hope the human spirit begins to die almost immediately. Physically, even our bodies show signs of sagging when we doubt the future or abandon all purpose. A quick survey of world events from the past year could easily leave us demoralized. The seemingly endless cycle of ethnic, religious, cultural, class and social prejudices that breed tension, conflict and war seem to dominate the landscape. Exploited by global power brokers for selfish political and economic gain these ‘man made’ hostilities have generated countless millions of innocent victims. More, we are told than have ever been known throughout recorded history. The prevailing domestic and international political and economic uncertainty only increases the general sense of anxiety and despondency. Where is the ray of hope in the midst of this global gloom?
Hope is about seeing struggle or even loss as a challenge, not a defeat. A hopeful person moves forward despite obstacles or setbacks, believing in St. Paul’s words that even suffering can assist growth, because “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
This kind of hope, of course, is more than just optimism. Ultimate hope is grounded in God’s promise that, at the end of day, truth and love will triumph over every obstacle, even death. Hope, like faith and love, holds us in relationship with God, the source and guarantor of our deep innate trust in the goodness of human life, cast into mystery yet toward a destiny beyond itself.
Hope is not a feel-good emotion and does not depend on evidence. In fact, it thrives best in adversity, like the light that is most visible in our darkest hour. It does require endurance and a commitment to the long haul, a capacity to interpret the silence. Hope is more than waiting out bad times. It is an active virtue that inspires us to be the future we want, to choose and work toward the changes we envision. Hope prompts us to live as though our prayers have already been answered.
Who needs hope at the beginning of a New Year? We all do. Peacemakers need hope that despite a world set on edge toward endless violence, new ideas and strategies will rise out of the exhaustion and failure of the politics and economics of war. Young people need hope that the world being handed on to them will not have been wasted by the selfishness and indecision of an older generation. The world’s have-nots need hope that, if not out of love then because of enlightened self-interest, governments and societies will make room at the table for everyone and foster development as the only path to stability and security for all. We leave behind the old year wondering if it is safe to exhale. Let us begin 2017 with a deep, fresh breath of hope.
Blessings in the New Year, Fr. +Timothy