Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Sunlight On the Forest Floor: Hope

No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world; but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at it colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it?

_From Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

A modern-day parable:

The Devil takes a man on a tour of hell and proudly shows off all his storehouses brimming with sin. There is lust and jealousy, anger and envy, and so on - a large storehouse for each big sin. But the man points out another storehouse larger by far than all the rest. "What do you keep in there?" he asks. "Oh, that," responds the Devil, "that holds the smallest but most effective seed of all. That is overflowing with discouragement."

_ From the Second Edition of the Catholic Faith Handbook for Youth

In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.

_Jesus Christ

I am one of those people who consistently struggles against dicouragement in looking up at the colossal evil in this world. It's difficult to retain hope in the face of a daily onslaught of news stories about the rampant injustice and malice. For this reason I long ago gave up watching nightly news, but I can't quite convince myself that avoiding the news section of the newspaper is a good idea -  despite the fact that every time I read about something happening here, in India, the Middle East, Africa, Central America or Ukraine, I court the idea that evil is winning.

And that is a crying sin.

If I ever truly accepted that notion, I would be guilty of despair. So my work is to hope and pray. And then I must ask myself the really hard and telling question: What can I do? Obviously, I must love my human family enough to think the world worth changing, and how? By showing great love and making the personal sacrifices of a fellow sinner.

Yesterday I read two amazing stories of people who hoped while standing face to face with evil. One was Immaculee Ilibagiza, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who hid with a group of women in a tiny bathroom for three months. Another was the tale of a priest, a missionary to the Native American population in Canada, who told the good news to and then baptized an Iroquois that was being slowly tortured to death by the Huron tribe. This French missionary, Brebeuf, was later tortured to death along with a fellow priest by the Iroquois that attacked the Huron village in which they were staying. Brebeuf preached to his torturers until they gagged him. His story and countless more from human history - yes, even ancient times - prove that the problem of evil has always been.

And yet people like Immaculee spread hope, love, and forgiveness after the most desperate and seemingly hopeless situations. She wrote that the Devil many times told her to give up, to call out so her persecutors could find her and kill her like hundreds of thousands of others, but she clung to the rosary her father had passed on to her shortly before he was murdered and kept praying and clinging to hope.

It's important for sheltered me not to isolate myself in blissful ignorance, true, but it's important for me to also regularly expose myself to healthy doses of courage, great love and every day human kindness testimonies, too. Hope is there. It's there in the groups of young men patrolling the streets of Cairo to keep other men from harassing or assaulting women. It's there at Dartmouth College where a professor is fighting to change the rape culture that exists on that campus. It's there in Christian-sponsored preschools in Central America where there are high gates with razor-wire to keep out the drug gangs and loving teachers within to keep up the hope and laughter.

It's there in the simplest things: in the smile you give to a grumpy neighbor, when you stop to ask a person involved in an accident if they're okay, in the compliment you pay to a friend on a rough day. The love of God is in all these things.

And, yes, it's even there in that funny (but clean!) story you read on the Internet today.

That was not much of a segue, I know, but I also came across this yesterday: Cheer Up or Dry Up: Proverbs 17: 22. from the humor writer at Whoa! Susannah. I think the project is an excellent idea; we all need to lift our spirits on a regular basis, and, I confess, it is also affirming for a sometimes-humor writer like me. Maybe I'll lighten things up here tomorrow.

I also really loved this post on The Optimism of Jesus by a A Lady In France. It moved me, because I do believe he is the ultimate optimist, our Redeemer, and I need to take more than a few lessons from him.


  1. The ugliness in the world is so overwhelming. I handled it better before I had children, before it became frightening - what if the ugliness showed up at my door? How could I protect my family? What I learned is that faith strengthened me. I especially like how you get inspired from witnessing everyday courage, and have dialed it down to the most simple actions. In a smile, a compliment, in love - there is God.

    1. What an awesome comment - thank you, Andrea. I, too, used to have a lot more courage before having kids. Now my fears are absolute monsters sometimes. I have learned to ask the Holy Spirit for more fortitude and for help when the world really gets to me and I start to lose faith and hope.

  2. First of all, THANK YOU for the mention! :-) And I can easily be discouraged or cynical, but I do try to focus on the hope more than anything else. Love always hopes. :-)

    1. It is always something I have to work on, but love must always hope.


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