Hope means hoping when things are hopeless

Advent and the little girl, Hope

Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.”

– G.K. Chesterton

It looked unquestionably bleak.

In a matter of two weeks, the Nazis had roared through Luxembourg, crushed the Netherlands, marauded through Belgium and blitzed deeply into France. The French Army and British Expeditionary Force found themselves pressed onto the beaches of Dunkirk with their backs to the unforgiving waters of the English Channel. The Americans across the Atlantic made it very clear that they wouldn’t send their boys to any foreign wars. And Great Britain looked increasingly alone.

But as the grim events inexorably unfolded, the bulldogish Prime Minister Winston Churchill made it clear to his Cabinet: There would be no surrender. In the darkness of those days – days which anticipated the Blitz of screaming bomber attacks on the cities of England – Churchill growled to his band of brothers.

The House [of Commons] should prepare itself for hard and heavy tidings. I have only to add that nothing which may happen in this battle can in any way relieve us of our duty to defend the world cause to which we have vowed ourselves; nor should it destroy our confidence in our power to make our way, as on former occasions in our history, through disaster and through grief to the ultimate defeat of our enemies.

And within days, Churchill further pronounced,

I am convinced that every one of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.

Hope.

That was the first and greatest weapon raised against the Nazi menace. Hope was the light that illuminated blood-stained rocks on embattled Pacific islands and cold corners of the blackest concentration camps. It fired the chilled soldiers in the wintry foxholes of Bastogne and it refreshed the dirt-coated liberators in North Africa. Hope wasn’t a component of victory; it was the key to it.

That is the essence of Advent.

In dark days of disease and loneliness, fear and guilt, sin and death, a dusty prophet declared to an enslaved nation,

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone. (Isaiah 9:1)

In a cultural backwater occupied by fearsome soldiers and short, unforgiving lives, a peasant girl was visited by a heavenly creature,

Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you. Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High – and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.  (Luke 1:28, 30-33)

An expectant mother and adoptive father, wise men traveling from afar, shepherds sensing a change in the chill wind on the edge of town – all were drawn by faith, but pushed by hope.

What is this strange thing, hope?

Perhaps the French poet, Charles Peguy, described it best in The Portal of the Mystery of Hope.

The faith that I love best, says God, is hope.
Faith doesn’t surprise me.
Its not surprising
I am so resplendent in my creation…

Charity says God, that doesn’t surprise me.
It’s not surprising.
These poor creatures are so miserable that unless they had a heart of stone, how could they not have love for one another.
How could they not love their brothers.
How could they not take the bread from their own mouth, their daily bread, in order to give it to the unhappy children who pass by…

What surprises me, says God, is hope.
And I can’t get over it.
This little hope who seems like nothing.
This little girl hope.
Immortal…

It’s she, the little one, who carries them all.
Because Faith sees only what is.
But she, she sees what will be.
Charity loves only what is.
But she, she loves what will be.

Yes, that’s it. Hope is a precious, vibrant, beaming little girl who loves not only what is, but what will be.

Oh, it is true. At times in our lives, things can look a little bleak.

But take courage.

The essence of Advent is a little girl, Hope.

On hope that doesn’t disappoint

Pope Francis gives us wonderful thoughts about hope today in his General Audience.  If you don’t have time to read the whole thing, at least read the last paragraph.

The Holy Father’s Catechesis

Dear brothers and sisters, good morning!

As children we are taught that it is not a good thing to boast. In my land, we call those who boast “peacocks.” And that is right, because to boast of what one is or of what one has, in addition to being a certain pride, also betrays a lack of respect in relations with others, especially towards those who are more unfortunate than us. In this passage of the Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul surprises us, in as much as for a good two times he exhorts us to boast. Hence, of what is it right to boast? — because if he exhorts us to boast, it is right to boast of something. And how is it possible to do this without offending, others, without excluding anyone?

In the first case, we are invited to boast of the abundance of grace of which we are pervaded in Jesus Christ, through faith. Paul wants to make us understand that, if we learn to read everything in the light of the Holy Spirit, we realize that everything is grace! Everything is gift! In fact, if we pay attention, to act – in history as well as in our life – it is not only us but first of all God <who acts>. He is the absolute protagonist, who creates everything as a gift of love, who weaves the plot of his plan of salvation and who brings it to fulfilment for us in His Son Jesus. We are asked to acknowledge all this, to receive it with gratitude and to make it become a motive of praise, of blessing and of great joy. If we do this, we are in peace with God and we experience freedom. And this peace is then extended to all environments and to all relations of our life: we are in peace with ourselves, we are in peace with the family, with our community, at work and with the persons we meet every day on our path.

However, Paul exhorts us to boast also in tribulations. This is not easy to understand. This is more difficult for us and it might seem to have nothing to do with the condition of peace just described. Instead, it constitutes the most authentic, the truest presupposition. In fact, the peace that the Lord offers and guarantees to us is not understood as the absence of worries, disappointments, failings, of motives of suffering. If it were so, should we succeed in being in peace that moment would soon end and we would fall inevitably into dejection. Instead, the peace that flows from faith is a gift: it is the grace of experiencing that God loves us and is always beside us; He does not leave us alone not even for an instant of our life. And, as the Apostle states, this generates patience, because we know that, also in the harshest and most distressing moments, the mercy and goodness of the Lord are greater than anything and nothing will tear us from His hands and from communion with Him.

See then why Christian hope is solid, see that it does not disappoint. It never disappoints. Hope does not disappoint! It is not founded on what we can do or be, and even less so on what we can believe. Its foundation, that is, the foundation of Christian hope is what is most faithful and certain that can be, namely the love that God Himself has for each one of us. It is easy to say: God loves us. We all say it. But think a moment: is every one of us capable of saying: I am certain that God loves me? It is not so easy to say it, but it is true. It is a good exercise to say to oneself: God loves me. This is the root of our security, the root of hope. And the Lord has effused His Spirit abundantly in our hearts as maker and guarantor, precisely so that it can nourish faith within us and keep this hope alive. And this certainty: God loves me. “But in this awful moment?” – God loves me. “And <He loves> me who have done this bad and evil thing?” – God loves me. No one takes this certainty away. And we should repeat it as a prayer: God loves me. I am certain that God loves me. I am certain that God loves me. Now we understand why the Apostle Paul exhorts us to boast always of all this. I boast of the love of God because He loves me. The hope we have been given does not separate us from others, and even less so does it lead us to discredit and marginalize them. Instead, it is an extraordinary gift of which we are called to make ourselves “channels” for all, with humility and simplicity. And then our greatest boast will be that of having as Father a God who does not have preferences, who does not exclude anyone, but who opens His house to all human beings, beginning with the least and the estranged, so that as His children we learn to console and support one another. And do not forget: hope does not disappoint.

[Original text: Italian]  [Translation by Virginia M. Forrester]

“We need witnesses to hope . . .”

“In a culture often dominated by technology, sadness and loneliness appear to be on the rise, not least among young people.  The future seems prey to an uncertainty that does not make for stability.  This often gives rise to depression, sadness and boredom, which can gradually lead to despair.  We need witnesses to hope and true joy if we are to dispel the illusions that promise quick and easy happiness through artificial paradises.  The profound sense of emptiness felt by so many people can be overcome by the hope we bear in our hearts and by the joy that it gives.  We need to acknowledge the joy that rises up in a heart touched by mercy.  Let us keep in mind, then, the words of the Apostle: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’.  (Pope Francis)