Saturday, October 17, 2015

Hope is Necessary in Every Condition

Thirtieth Ordinary Sunday Year B

William Samuel Johnson (1727-1819) was a major figure in the American independence, considered one of the founding fathers of the nation. Having witnessed the transition from British colonial rule to a precarious federation of diversely different states, it is no wonder that many of his quotes have been immortalised, including this one, “Hope is necessary in every condition. The miseries of poverty, sickness and captivity would, without this comfort, be insupportable.” In these troubled times, beset by woes, tragedies, pessimistic forecasts of an uncertain future, hope is indeed necessary.

Most of us would hear quite a bit about the importance of the theological virtues of faith and love. One is counseled to have faith in God that He will bring the best result out of the situation, and never stop loving even in the face of adversity. Although hope, is of extreme importance in Christian life, especially when in the middle of difficult of confusing times, it is a virtue that is often neglected or misunderstood. Many confuse hope for false optimism – “Don’t worry, things are going to get better.” Experience will tell you that it doesn’t always get better. In fact, we have numerous testimonies that things often descend into worse scenarios.

But for us Christians, why is hope so necessary? Wouldn’t faith or love suffice? Though faith in God can help assuage worry, and love can help overcome the sadness over what is being left behind, hope is the virtue which lifts one out of the situation and helps him anticipate the future with joy. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in his beautiful encyclical Spe Salvi, “Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.” Yes, often a person leans on faith to take care of what he does not have time to consider, and love to help him feel better in the moment. But ultimately it is hope which is needed to reach that interior peace, which allows one to look beyond the present pain, to find joy in the struggle, and to muster the strength to reach for the good that is ahead.

Today, we encounter the blind man Bartimaeus in the gospel. Looking at Bartimaeus, we see a man who’s at the end of his rope. He experiences a flicker of hope when he hears that Jesus, the miracle-worker, is in town. He dreams of the possibility of being able to see; an irrepressible desire for healing. But his quest would not be an easy one. He would have to contend with a gauntlet of sceptics, detractors, pessimists and self-styled realists who try to shut him up. It’s not enough that he’s blind; they wish to render him mute too. These people are not entirely bad or evil. Perhaps, some would like to shield the Master from having to suffer the inconvenience of dealing with every trivial or petty request. Some others may have actually thought that they were being kind to Bartimaeus, to spare him the additional pain that comes from disappointment and false expectations. Our natural tendency when see someone else suffer is to try to make them feel better, correct their idealism by injecting a healthy dose of reality, and help them lower their expectations to reasonable and plausible levels.

This story may resonate with many of us, especially those who wish to find solace, consolation, encouragement and healing from the community of the Church. But instead of encouragement, we encounter only discouragement. The Church is often idealised as a community of saints, but what we often experience is mismatched group of sinners. Our desire to come closer to the throne of grace seems thwarted at every turn. What proves most painful of all is to see people, whom we have come to believe as brothers and sisters in Christ, forming an impenetrable barrier that keeps us from our goal.  Feeling demoralised, unloved and unwanted, many are led to only one conclusion – to give up or quit all together. Very often, we allow disappointment and discouragement that emanates from persons and situations to eclipse our view of Jesus. We mistake human failure for divine apathy.

But Bartimaeus serves as a model for all of us. Where others have turned back, this blind man presses on. Hope helps him to see beyond his physical blindness. He is able to see something where others have failed. He sees a Jesus who will make time for him, a Jesus who will not turn him away, a Jesus who brings healing. He refuses to allow the brokenness of the community, their discouraging words and scepticism to hinder him from his goal. It is ironic that this man does not need eyes to see Jesus. What quality did Bartimaeus possess that allowed him to see beyond physical sight? Or rather what possessed him to rise above the discouragement posed by his peers? The answer lies in the virtue of hope. 

The story of Bartimaeus is a critical reminder that life may be full of setbacks and disappointments, when faith sometimes fail and love seems absent, when the Christian community and the visible Church may fall short of our expectations, that individual Christians may often appear to be more of the Pharisaic mould rather than the Good Samaritan type, but hope helps us to cast our vision beyond the temporal to have a glimpse of the eternal, to see the pristinely divine in the midst of human inadequacies. Hope is never losing sight of the eternal and never allowing it or us to sink beneath the mire of our present woes. While we sometimes get stuck focusing on the here and now, our present situation isn't the end of the story.

We return to those wise and beautiful words of Pope Benedict in Spes Salvi, dedicated to the virtue of hope, “The present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.” Hope provides us the strength and courage to endure the disappointments of this life, the tears and sorrows that mark our all too human existence, the weariness that comes with age and finally the dark clouds that dampen our journey, in order that we may live for the eternal tomorrow. Truly, “hope is necessary in every condition.”

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