Hope? A Fact

What hope remains to enable today’s man to live? Not the projection of a thought of his own or the utopia of a future that never comes, but an event: the Mystery that made Himself a companion to man


Where were you, God, when the earthquake stole those little lives? It is not a blasphemous imprecation, the question that emerged from the lips and heart of a priest in San Giuliano di Puglia. It is a very human question, as from a son who feels, for an instant, forgotten by his father, and asks him for an explanation. However, in that turning to the Mystery that keeps everything in being, addressing it as You, there is the dignity of an authentic religious sense. Who knows how many fine religious men among the Israelites, two thousand years ago, asked Yahweh the same question–maybe after losing their children in the accidental collapse of a poorly built tower or because they were caught by chance in the midst of an anti-Roman uprising started by Zealots. “God, why did You allow a tragedy like this to happen? God, where were You?” And, just think, God was maybe a few miles away, a child in swaddling clothes in a grotto, in the nearby village of Bethlehem. It’s just that, then, nobody realized it, except for a group of shepherds who had no civil rights, who were considered by the other Israelites on the same level as, or even worse than, our own immigrants who are outside the mainstream community. How different is the human position, dignified but ultimately melancholic, that arises from the religious sense and from the position of hope that comes from having in front of you God made flesh.

Human evidence
Paul Claudel has written that man’s pain was too great for an explanation to be enough for him. What use are God’s “clarifications” once so many innocent lives have been ripped away? Thus, two thousand years ago, the Mystery did not furnish us with a new philosophy on pain. He did, to our great fortune, something else, something unforeseeable. He offered man a companionship. His companionship. Ever since then, hope is no longer the projection of a thought of one’s own or the expectation of a future that keeps putting off the appointment with destiny. Ever since then, hope is a fact, a present fact. The extent and measure of our hope will always depend on the degree to which this is humanly evident, humanly recognizable. It obeys a law of proportionality that is practically mathematical–practically, because there are always the variables of grace and the gift of poverty of spirit. So for the meek–to keep hope alive–all that is needed is a small, almost unnoticeable sign. And this is what is often the most touching.

Of the three theological virtues, the least “natural” in today’s world is precisely hope. After all, everyone “believes” in something, and many admit the possibility (usually distorted) of supernatural intervention. When some tragic event happens, like the earthquake in the Molise and Apulia regions of Italy, everyone in front of the television screen feels pity for the victims and finds it easy to pull out their wallets in a natural rush of charity. But hope… the expectation and hope for true happiness, these really seem like something otherworldly. For in order truly to hope, it is not enough to possess a well-constructed and well-argued doctrine. Nor is it enough to have a generous leap of the heart in the face of innocent suffering. In order to hope, what is needed is the good fortune to be able to see. The miracle of wonder is needed. One has to be very content. And these are not things that come by themselves. In these times, what comes by itself is cynicism: a protective armor against life’s blows. A hope that underestimates this instinct for protection would be too facile a hope.

The childlike virtue
In the 1970s, Marxism was the fashion in some intellectual circles, and Catholicism risked exchanging Christian hope for the utopia of political messianisms. Perhaps it mixed ecumenism up with an irenical leveling of differences. Today, the cultural climate is totally different. The West is frightened by the Islamic threat, and secularist intellectuals, paradoxically, ask the Church to show her cultural “identity” more forcefully, raising her religious banners against the new barbarians, with no more ecumenical timidity. It would be wrong to generalize. But the risk, today, is to confuse the “childlike” virtue of Christian hope with its “mummified” ideological version. This is a flexing of muscles and sounding of trumpets that clashes painfully with the sight of empty churches and the growth of a generation of teenagers more and more distant from the Church and indifferent to her teachings. This is testified to, tragically, by the most recent news coming from the world of youth.

If so many of our boys and girls are the first generation in two thousand years of history to live, as Peguy said, “after Jesus without Jesus,” the fault does not lie in the invasion of thousands of Muslim immigrants looking for food and work. In banal terms, they do not happen to encounter people or places that are able to communicate to them the fascination and attraction of the Christian fact. And this is a drama not only for the Church, but for all of society.

The Pope’s hope
In recent months, the Pope is giving us further testimony of freedom and Christian hope. He has not let himself be confined to the role of grand chaplain of the Western armies. His passion for man leads him to seek a dialogue, cutting across all religious confessions, with all people who love true peace, because the Christian claim does not close off, but opens up toward what is “other.” It does not make proud, but more humble. It does not sadden, but gives gladness. It takes away fear, because nothing and no one has the power to separate you from what is your most precious Good, because in any circumstance whatever, you can always ask.

We live in a world dominated by the mass media. We are bombarded by images and empty words. Christian hope teaches us this, too: to mistrust others’ and our own verbosity, to understand that the things that really matter are very few, and to pray, using the simple words of the tradition. “They have told us so many things, oh Queen of Apostles. We have lost our taste for speeches. We have no altars any more but yours. We know nothing but a simple prayer” (Péguy)–a simple prayer, like the ancient and forgotten practice of the Rosary, which the Pope urges us to discover again personally, in our families, and in our communities, in order to “contemplate Jesus through Mary’s eyes.” Mary, the living fountain of hope.