Sunday, August 7, 2011

What To Do When Hope Fades

A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. When I have been plunged into complete solitude, if I pray I am never totally alone. The late Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, a prisoner for thirteen years, nine of them spent in solitary confinement, has left us a precious little book: Prayers of Hope. During thirteen years in jail, in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope—to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude.
Spe Salvi 32

Reflection – Pope Benedict here touches upon something very important in the journey of hope. It is when natural hope fades and even dies that supernatural hope flowers in its place. We always have both; supernatural hope is given us in baptism to keep our wills fixed on God who is our happiness; natural hope is a proper habit of our humanity to energize us to work for good, but difficult to achieve, future goals—‘where there’s life, there’s hope!’
The two are related in that both energize us in the same way – towards the arduous future good – but are wholly distinct in that one gets us off our duffs and working hard to earn that promotion, get that degree, raise those children, while the other makes us primarily and fundamentally ‘lift our eyes to the Lord, waiting for his merciful help.’
This is why prayer and hope are so inter-connected. It is prayer that is this very lifting of our eyes, our minds, our hearts, to God. Prayer is hope in action. And the more we exercise a virtue, the stronger it becomes in us, just like our muscles grow stronger as we exercise them.
Cardinal Van Thuan, mentioned here, is a towering figure of this virtue of hope, and indeed one of the great saints (if I can be presumptuous to say that) of the 20th century. His life of faithfulness as Archbishop of Saigon after his imprisonment is astounding, and the choice he made every day to love his enemies, his jailors, seeing in them the only members of his flock he had access to. Then there was his daily Eucharist, celebrated with a fragment of bread, two drops of wine and one of water, on his ‘chalice’ – the palm of his hand. And the pastoral letters he wrote in his first years in prison, smuggling them out to be copied out by hand and passed from household to Catholic household. Their eventual publication after they reached his family in Australia was the occasion of his being moved to solitary confinement.
He is truly a patron saint of our times, finding faith, hope, and love in the most difficult situation possible, and coming out of prison a radiant witness to the gospel. If you haven’t read his writings, I suggest you start here.

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