Vantage Point

Practicing Hope

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We’re still wearing masks, we’re still social-distancing, and we don’t know how long it’s going to last. Coronavirus has the world in its grip, and there is no way to predict when it will depart. We have to continue to pray and hope for a return to life as we knew it, or as close as possible to the way we knew it.

Hope is essential in our defense against the disease and the destruction it causes. There is the tragic toll of illness and death, but also unemployment, financial loss, businesses ruined, families fearful of losing their homes. Yet we need to keep hope alive, to keep on believing that the devastation will end and we will survive, and our joy will be restored.

As Catholics we are called to practice hope at all times and in all circumstances. It is one of the three theological virtues—faith, hope and charity—that come to us directly from God and draw us close to him.

I’ve been thinking about hope, and how much our hope is being tested now. It’s hard to keep hoping when things go bad and stay bad, or when there seems to be no way out. As if that weren’t difficult enough, hope seems to me to be the virtue that is hardest to find again when it seems to have disappeared.

Lost faith sometimes can be recovered by remembering what, or whom, one once believed in. The memory of moments when faith flourished—in church, in prayer, among people of strong, joyful faith—can rekindle what seems to have been extinguished in the soul. The light can return.

Lost love, too, can sometimes be rekindled. A relationship that has faltered can be renewed if the people in it believe that it is worth the time and effort to revive it. Memories of kind acts and happy times shared can be the foundation for a renewed relationship, even a deeper commitment.

Hope is different. Hope often looks for something to happen that has not happened before, so there is no model, no image to evoke. What does the hoped-for outcome look like? Sometimes that’s obvious: “I hope I get that job” or “I hope I can visit my sister.” But “I hope this pandemic ends soon” is not as clear. What needs to take place for that to happen? How much social distancing is enough? Will we still have to take extra precautions against contamination? The recommendations of medical experts and the safety precautions mandated by public officials seem to have helped significantly, but no one can make the disease disappear. That will take time, maybe a lot of time.

What does hope require at a time like this, when widespread illness and its effects cause untold suffering and fear for the future? I think hope requires us to start with the conviction that this will end and that we need to keep our spirits up until it does. We need to begin with the belief that we will come through it. Hope also requires gratitude for what we still have or can reasonably expect to find if we are in need: food, medicine, shelter. Above all, we need to be grateful for the family members, friends and neighbors who are enduring this with us; we need to keep encouraging each other. A laugh shared with a friend on the phone feeds the hope in our hearts. Hope also means offering as much help as we can to those who are in need or who have suffered unexpected losses because of the crisis.

Hope needs prayer to survive. Prayer is harder now that we cannot, for very good reasons, gather in church and attend Mass. Offering up that absence in our lives is itself a form of prayer.

Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev. 3:20).

All the hope we need is on the other side of the door.

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