That quote from Pope Benedict’s encyclical Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope) ran across the rear of many a Washington, D.C. mass-transit bus around the time of the papal visit earlier this year.
To the hardened, often jaded politicos of the nation’s capital, Benedict could have been just a foreigner with a foreign message were it not for the likes of Tony Snow.
The former George W. Bush White House press secretary and “Fox News Sunday” host (among other roles), died July 12 at Georgetown University Hospital after a long, brave battle with colon cancer.
His drive to fight the disease until he could fight no longer didn’t come from a yellow bracelet. Its source wasn’t a desire for more worldly gain.
The Catholic convert’s momentum was inspired by Christian hope.
That faith and hope made Snow ceaselessly optimistic. But he was also utterly realistic — a smart guy living in the real world.
Thus he knew, when his cancer came back after remission last year, that his physical outlook wasn’t good and not getting better. He quit his White House job — where he had given the Bush administration some communications hope, at last — to devote whatever time he had left to his family. He wanted to make money to help provide for them when he was able and he wanted to spend all the time with them that he could.
In an interview with NBC’s David Gregory last August, during a particularly emotional moment, as he was talking about his children, he declared, fighting back tears, “It’s great to love people this much.”
It’s a love he does not see ending when cancer takes him, but only gets “better … bigger.” He anticipated he’d be “waiting on the other side rooting them on.”
And so we pray he is today.
It’s heartbreaking to see children who can no longer play ball, get advice and be hugged by their father. But, for comfort, they have the words he left in interviews and the way he lived his life.
And if the former White House press secretary had to die so young — 53 — there’s something appropriate about him leaving us during the Pauline Year.
During his fight with colon cancer, his life was a public witness to St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: “We are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal” (4:16-18).
During a commencement speech last year at my alma mater, The Catholic University of America, Snow said, “American culture likes to celebrate the petulant outcast, the smart aleck with the contempt for everything and faith in nothing. Snarky mavericks. The problem is these guys are losers. They have signed up for an impossible mission. Because they’ve decided they’re going to create all the meaning in their lives.”
You obviously can’t do that — not if you want to be a success in the real life-and-death sense of the word.
So Snow continued, “Once you realize that there is something greater than you out there, then you have to decide, ‘Do I acknowledge it and do I act upon it?’ You have to at some point surrender yourself. And there is nothing worthwhile in your life that will not at some point require an act of submission.”
We have no choice about physical submission in the end, but Snow made an act of submission all on his own. In that David Gregory interview, Snow referred to death as “graduation.” He channeled St. Paul on mainstream-media TV: “To me life is Christ, and death is gain” (Philippians 1:21).
Snow never pretended to be perfect. He was simply a man enthusiastic to live life, with those he loved, doing the things he loved and cared about — whether it be playing in his D.C. pop-hits cover band (Beats Workin’) or leading the nation’s public-policy discussions. And that he did. And he did it differently. He didn’t derive his meaning from the popular — working the D.C. social circles and being in the headlines wasn’t the end-all for him — but from the eternal.
By the end he had advice to dole out, wisdom he figured out “through trial and error.”
During his inauguration of the Pauline Year, Pope Benedict announced that “Paul wants to speak with us today.”
Snow gave Paul that chance. He quoted the saint saying: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).
We may not see Tony Snow anymore on TV, hear him on the radio — but he has left us an important lesson. When it comes down to it, faith and family are what matter, and the next life trumps this one. That life can be ours. As I pray it is Tony’s.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (nationalreview.com).