The loss of hope is a terrible thing. It can be lethal. But for most of us, a deficiency of it shows itself in more subtle ways: discouragement, putting our trust in everything but God, or focusing too much on the negative in the world. But hope is alive. We have to believe that.
I find hope in many different places. I’m inspired by Louis Zamperini, for example.
The movie Unbroken, based on the biography by Laura Hillenbrand, shows Louis Zamperini’s strong hope. In World War II, he was a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator. One flight damaged by enemy flack barely made it back to the base. Another flight crashed into the Pacific, and he and two others survived 47 days in a life raft.
Rescued by the Japanese, for two years Zamperini bore brutal treatment as a prisoner of war. He grew up Catholic, but said it was the message of Billy Graham at a revival that caused him to turn his life around after his return. Zamperini then went back to Japan to express his forgiveness to his tormentors. That takes faith and love.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church lists the blessings of hope: “The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity” (1818).
We know conflicts, violence, and wars plague our world. We may have stubborn problems in our own lives. Still, do we have reasons to be hopeful? On the level of faith, we do! The rock-solid foundation of faith supports all the many reasons we have to be filled with hope. The Book of Psalms often referred to God as the “rock” we can depend on. We are given the basis for our hope in the Bible, in Baptism, and in the example of the saints.
The Psalms are a good place to start. They are full of power, praise, and hope. They recognize our human emotions, and can be very concrete. They help us understand who we are. Consider three examples:
“Since my heart was embittered...I was stupid and could not understand.... Yet I am always with you; you take hold of my right hand” (Ps 73).
“Those whose steps are guided by the Lord, whose way God approves, may stumble, but they will never fall, for the Lord holds their hand” (Ps 37).
“The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I lack.... To safe waters you lead me.... You guide me along the right path.... Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side” (Ps 23).
In Baptism, we received the Holy Spirit and the virtues of faith, hope, and charity. These virtues help us become God-like. Hope puts the desire in our hearts for the kingdom of heaven and eternal life with God. We rely not on our own strength, but on the grace of the Holy Spirit. Hope helps us overcome being self-centered and to love and help others. It keeps us from getting discouraged when we meet obstacles.
The saints show us how hope worked in their lives. Saint Frances Xavier Cabrini (1850-1917), as a sister in Italy, wanted to be a missionary in China, but the pope urged her to come to the United States to help Italian immigrants. When she and her six Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart arrived in New York, they saw desperate needs and first took care of orphans. They begged money and recruited helpers.
In 35 years, Mother Cabrini founded 67 orphanages, schools, and hospitals in the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Spain, and France. She didn’t let obstacles stop her. Coming to the US was not easy because, from her childhood, she was afraid of drowning. But as founder of an international community, she traveled across the Atlantic Ocean 30 times.
Whatever our circumstances, do we have reasons to be hopeful? Yes, for in God we trust.