“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pt 3:15).
Six Jesuits in our province infirmary in Philadelphia died from the coronavirus early on in the pandemic. Several weeks later, the Jesuit community at St. Joseph’s University held a beautiful memorial Mass for our deceased brothers. I was able to participate and pray via Zoom.
The experience was strange and sublime, poignant and powerful. I felt consoled that we were able to pray “together,” but felt a bit adrift in cyberspace. Having offered multiple Masses for family and friends via Zoom, I was familiar with the pluses and minuses of Zoom praying. (And shouldn’t Zoom be given some major award for everything it’s made possible during this time?)
But I felt a little deprived of the feeling and sense one receives being present at a complete funeral Mass. I particularly missed the full and loud rendition of Jesuits singing together our “Take and Receive” anthem. Still, although at a distance from what I really would have wanted for our Jesuit community, I felt hopeful.
Hope is the grace to live with reality and still find peace and joy. Our faith in Jesus bolsters the truth that President Franklin D. Roosevelt preached: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” In “Running on Empty” Jackson Browne sings that “people need some reason to believe.” Jesus is our reason and the source of our hope.
Hope holds off discouragement and instills in us trust in our eternal happiness with God (see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1818). Thomas Merton wrote, “Christian hope is confident … in the dynamism of unfailing love.” St. Paul tells us: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God” (Rom 8:28).
Fear and worry keep us from being hopeful. President James A. Garfield quipped, “I remember the old man who said he had had a great many troubles in his life, but the worst of them never happened.”
I once spent an entire 24-hour period worrying about something I thought someone was going to do. And then the person didn’t do it. Hadn’t even thought about doing it. I wasted an entire day of my life churning my thoughts over something that wasn’t even going to happen. You only get 29,200 days if you live 80 years! Don’t waste a day!
People in 12-step programs talk about avoiding “stinkin’ thinkin’.” We need to ask God for the grace to fill our thoughts with musings on good and happy realities, with pleasant memories.
We need to learn to pray about what is painful and terrifying with an awareness that God loves us and is with us. God loves us. That gives us hope. That carries us when we find walking hard.
Hope gives us the power to stare down the difficult and distressful aspects of life, knowing we can handle things with the help of our loved ones, community and God. Virtue is strength, and hope gives us the strength to go on. Even the stark reality of evil cannot vanquish hope.
Father Bernard Lonergan, maybe the smartest Jesuit who ever lived, radically realizes there is evil. Still, overall, the universe shows God’s total power and goodness. Father Lonergan writes: “Because God is omniscient, he knows man’s plight. Because he is omnipotent, he can remedy it. Because he is good, he wills to do so. The fact of evil is not the whole story.”
Hope is the courageous work of waiting for the solution, for things to get better. We face increasing income inequality, global climate change, the need to improve relations among races.
And COVID-19 has upended everything. It can scare us. By early September, at least 184,800 Americans and 857,920 across the world had died. Millions have suffered serious illness from this pandemic, and all feel the economic repercussions.
Hope is the Spirit to hang on and work to ameliorate the situation. Scientists search for a vaccine. Self-sacrificing nurses and doctors, first responders and necessary workers testify to the reality of human goodness confronting the effects of COVID-19. Teachers and schools strive to open safely.
Look, I’m a Phillies and Eagles fan. So, if anybody knows about hope it’s me! The old joke about an “Eagle with a Super Bowl ring must be a thief” is no longer true! Thank you, St. Nick Foles! Also, don’t worry about the world ending today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia.
So, for today, pray. Enjoy your coffee. Be grateful. Be positive. If you find yourself worrying about something (or someone) over which you have no control, remember, God is with us and saves us. That is the hope of a funeral Mass and all prayer.
Maybe poet Emily Dickinson said it best: “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers — / That perches in the soul — / And sings the tune without the words — / And never stops — at all.”
Keep singing — in the shower is best.
Jesuit Father Richard Malloy is director of mission and ministry at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Baltimore. He is author of “Being on Fire: The Top Ten Essentials of Catholic Faith.”