Hungry for Hope


The story of Susan Torres is powerful because the world is hungry for hope.

Doctors now say the vicious cancer that would kill her was there, dormant, as she went to college at the University of Dallas and met the two loves of her life — the Catholic faith and Jason Torres. She and Jason dated, married, had a son.

Jason had to rush his four-months-pregnant wife to the hospital the day before Mother's Day this year. There, doctors discovered that the cancer had reached her brain and declared brain dead.

Doctors literally kept Susan's body going by machines until they delivered the baby by on Aug. 3, two months premature. It was a girl.

“We were overjoyed at the birth of baby Susan,” said Jason's brother, Justin, the family spokesman. “But we knew what was coming next.”

Susan received the sacrament of the sick from Arlington priest Father Paul Scalia — the son of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia — and then the machines were turned off.

It is tempting to make Susan a poster child for one pro-life cause or another — but there's a more profound meaning in her life than that: hope. It is ironic that Americans so profoundly lack hope. We have reached a nearly unprecedented level of affluence. We live an air-conditioned life in which overeating is the threat, not lack of food, surrounded by entertainments.

Yet, at the same time, our suicide rates are higher than ever and clinical depression has reached epidemic proportions. The high divorce rate shows the level of dissatisfaction married people have with their lives.

More than ever before, we have the means to bring about a certain happiness in this world. And more than ever before, we are despairing because we find that it's just not enough.

Selfishness and hopelessness go hand in hand, as the Catechism points out (No. 1818). The more we focus on the comforts in this life, the more we forget the true happiness promised in the next.

It's no wonder the most popular saints of our days are saints of hope.St. Padre Pio's canonization ceremony broke attendance records; he was a stigmatist who lived a life of deprivation. St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) are popular worldwide; they both perished in Nazi concentration camps.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux's life was marked by sorrow, sickness and an early death. Mother Teresa suffered through 50 years with the sense that God was absent from her life. Pope John Paul II — the subject of Witness to Hope and author of Crossing the Threshold of Hope — lost every member of his family by age 20, and lived nearly all his life under totalitarian oppression.

Hope provides the power in all of their stories. We love these saints because they remind us that there's a deeper source of happiness, one that doesn't depend on the material circumstances of life — a happiness that can survive suffering.

Father Werenfried Van Straaten, founder of Aid to the Church in Need, once wrote to a newspaper editor and suggested what a Catholic newspaper ought to do.

He said: “Strengthen in us the conviction that Catholicism in the wide world is flourishing in its full vigor of love so that we can share in this fullness and find the courage also to be ready for sacrifice.

“Arouse in us by sweeping examples the consciousness that we, too, are capable of doing good, and that a man who is full of God is able to do supernatural deeds and is even capable of martyrdom. We beseech you, search the whole Catholic world for such examples. We are convinced you will find them. For heroism can never be missing from God's Church.”

We have found these heroes of hope, and not just in the lives of the saints. After Sept. 11, we heard about the rescue workers — mostly Catholic — who received general absolution and then climbed into the burning World Trade Center, knowing it could collapse. We've heard of the Catholic troops — many of them immigrants — who left friends and family to make the ultimate sacrifice overseas.

And we've told you about people like Terri Schiavo, whose devout parents were determined to give her the chance to live despite her physical handicaps.

All of them, exemplars of hope.

Now we have Jason and Susan Torres, who literally brought new life from death.

“Her passing is a testament to the truth that human life is a gift from God,” Justin Torres said, “and that children are always to be fought for, even if life requires — as it did of Susan — the last full measure of devotion.”