Surviving Through Hope

COMMENTARY: Who had better reasons for abandoning hope than a certain individual whose country was invaded by both Nazi as well communist forces?

Pope John Paul II in Adamello, Italy in 1988.
Pope John Paul II in Adamello, Italy in 1988. (photo: Gregorini Demetrio / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Helen Alvaré, who is an accomplished lawyer, in addition to being a pro-life stalwart, has made a public invitation to Catholics who have survived the present crisis of disunity at all levels in the Church to discuss how hope has given them strength.

This is both a timely and important question. How does one remain hopeful when so many Catholics in high places have seemingly lost hope? Personal testimonials to hope are vitally needed today in order to provide some measure of encouragement for the many who are struggling with their faith.

The question also offers me an opportunity for self-reflection and the possibility of providing a small quantum to the magnum of hope that is vitally needed.

G.K. Chesterton has remarked, “Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all.” A virtue is a source of strength. It differs from a mere wish that requires no strength at all. I may hope it does not rain tomorrow to spoil our picnic. But this kind of hope is better identified as a wish. And we do not need a virtue in order to make a wish.

When the Church is operating smoothly, with minimal difficulties, people tend to take things for granted and find no need to summon a source of strength which is the very nature of a virtue. We do not need to employ the fire extinguisher when there is no fire. 

The comfortable Catholics may have been taken off guard during the current crisis. They need to understand that even the Catholic Church, under the guidance of Providence, will enter into difficult times, as she has throughout history. History teaches us hope, not the present calamity. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Hope never spread her golden wings but in unfathomable seas”.

Thanks to the grace of God, I have not lost hope. The fact that God exists is demonstrated through reason. That the Catholic Church is One, Holy, and Apostolic is attested to by her saints, philosophers, theologians and more than 2,000 years of service to innumerable people throughout the world. The Church has proven to be an institution founded by God and is, therefore, eminently reliable.

If certain people, who have not developed the virtue of hope, decided to leave the Church, it may be because they are angry, disappointed, or confused. These reasons, though understandable from a psychological perspective, are not cogent. One must put aside such irrelevancies and look at the Church from a broader perspective.

The abandonment of hope is the loss of everything that fills our souls. Over the entrance way to hell, Dante inscribed the words, “Abandon all hope ye who enter here.” To live without hope, therefore, is already to be in Hell. In a time of crisis we must be hopeful, just as in a time of war we must be brave.

When I look back on my long life, it is clear how much I owe to the Catholic Church and its myriad of ministering Catholics. There were many crisis points in my life, as there are in the lives of anyone. Yet, in my case, I was able to choose the better path in each instance thanks to the generosity and assistance of practicing Catholics. 

Without the help of these “guardian angels” who attended to my needs between high school and college, college and graduate school, graduate school and the work force, and transitioning from the single state to marriage, and from city to city, I do not know what would have become of me. But I fear that I would have lost out at every point. My gratitude to so many has reinforced my hope.

My hope was also strengthened with the arrival of our five children and witnessing their own growth in the faith. And it would seem that heaven sent me the right partner to watch over the 13 grandchildren brought into the world through our immediate children.

The current crisis in the Church has left me more confused than I have ever been about those who are its lieutenants. On the other hand, the multitude of Catholics who defend life with hope and courage are a testimony to the grace of God that has been transmitted through the Church. There are many reasons for hope, if one can only look around and not be discouraged by a few errant officials.

Gratitude is the residue of hope. It is also its justification. The moment can be misleading. Patience is also a virtue. In times of disappointment we must learn to wait. 

“Tomorrow is another day” says Scarlett O’Hara at the close of Gone with the Wind. Hope picks up where discouragement has lost its footing. 

Hope, along with faith and charity, is a supernatural virtue. This means that it does not arise solely within ourselves, but it is infused by God. Therefore, when hope seems to be dying within us, we should pray that God strengthens our hope with Hope that originates with Him. Hope, in this sense, is a blessing more than it is an achievement. Therefore, the virtue of humility is needed so that we can rely on God more than on ourselves.

Who had better reasons for abandoning hope than a certain individual whose country was invaded by both Nazi as well communist forces? Yet, his biography is properly entitled, Witness to Hope. His “holiness the pope” can also be rendered as “his Polishness the hope.”