Religion

Have Yourself a Hopeful Little Christmas

Girls light candles at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, December 23, 2018. (Mussa Qawasma/Reuters)
‘There’s only one answer to fear. That answer is in Bethlehem.’

‘Your relentless hopefulness and positivity are no good here,” a Millennial colleague of mine tweeted a few days before Christmas. It was her reaction to my response to another tweet of hers, as a potential government shutdown was before us and General Jim Mattis, secretary of defense, announced his February resignation, to name just a few of the things people were buzzing about. “Let me cut right to the chase for you so you can just get off Twitter for the evening and save what’s left of your sanity: everything is bad,” she had posted. I had then played to type and replied to my fellow Catholic: “except the Incarnation and all.”

I laughed out loud, as they say, at her reply. But I also immediately thought of a man who died just after Christmas last year. At the reception after James Joseph Hanson’s funeral Mass at St. Anthony’s Church in Yulan, N.Y., in a blizzard, J.J.’s wife, Kristen, gave everyone a copy of a book called “Beautiful Hope.” Here she was, now a single mother having to care for their two young sons and only beginning to grieve the death of her husband, and she was pointing to hope. Because it’s real to her.

In one of the chapters of the book, Archbishop José Gómez of Los Angeles, quotes Cardinal Francis X. Nguyen Van Thuan, a prisoner of the Communists who took power in Saigon in 1975, spending nine of his 13 years in solitary confinement. He insisted that whatever the circumstances, Christians must be “the light in the darkness, the salt where life has no savor, and hope in the midst of a humanity which has lost hope.” He had hope even in such unjust imprisonment. “Hope is the theological virtue that enables us to keep our eyes on heaven—even during those times when our sufferings and trials make our lives here on earth seem like a living hell.”

Gómez is quick to point out that “Christian hope is not some kind of wishful thinking — far from it! Christian hope is the only certainty in this passing world.”

“We can lose our job, we can lose a loved one, and we can have our freedom or our good health taken from us,” he adds. “If we have no greater hopes than these, we are bound for a life of disappointments and sadness.”

Our hope cannot be in Donald Trump — or his defeat. Our hope cannot be in politics or in the belief that it might save the day. And so no one news story, or even an avalanche of them, can rob us of our hope.

Gómez writes: “Our hope in the Resurrection should animate every aspect of our lives.”

I mention the Resurrection around Christmas because you really can’t consider one without the other. Tempting as it may be, you cannot despair if you truly believe these things are true.

In his annual pre-Christmas talk to the Roman Curia, Pope Francis, too, while addressing the despicable news the Church has had to face in recent months, talked about hope: “In the firm conviction that the light always proves stronger than the darkness, I would like to reflect with you on the light that links Christmas (the Lord’s first coming in humility) to the Parousia (his second coming in glory), and confirms us in the hope that does not disappoint. It is the hope on which our individual lives, and the entire history of the Church and the world, depend. Without hope, how unsightly the Church would be!”

Indeed. It’s that hope in Jesus Christ that is the point of the Church. It’s the point, of course, of Christmas.

One last thing about hope: If you find yourself feeling devoid of it or losing it, do something different. Get off Twitter, perhaps. Go to a church. Immerse yourself in something beautiful. One easy way might be to get yourself on the mailing list of the Sisters of Life. These women are tangible hope in the world. They exist to help pregnant women in need. But they really are love making hope possible in every life they touch. At the time of my Twitter exchange, their latest newsletter (a mini-magazine, really) was sitting beside my phone. “A Thrill of Hope,” it begins, from the word Go lifting spirits and, yes, my weary soul rejoiced. The community of women religious were founded by Cardinal John O’Connor, who in 1989 said during Midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral: “There’s only one answer to fear. That answer is in Bethlehem. That answer is in a little baby. That answer is in that Child about whom the angel sang, ‘Don’t be afraid. Don’t run away. Come.’”

The world needs hope. Let’s be that hope. It requires taking Christmas seriously. It requires rejecting despair and drawing men and women to hope with the way we live our lives and even tweet. It doesn’t have to be explicit. It could be my young colleague making me laugh. It just has to radiate from our lives. May it be so. Merry Christmas.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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