Embracing Hope in a Culture of Ambiguity and Confusion
by Mary Anne Kreitzer
I’ll begin by stating the obvious. We live in deeply troubled times. The world, the nation, and even Holy Mother Church, are reeling under assaults from the evil one. Our country is as divided today as it was in the years leading up to the war between the states. We seem to be living out the Biblical prophecy of Luke 12:53. “Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? I assure you, the contrary is true; I have come for division. From now on, a household of five will be divided three against two and two against three; father will be split against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, etc.” If vitriol could kill, many would be dead.
And just as the division Jesus prophesied was over moral issues and fidelity to His teachings, the same is true today. The dictatorship of moral relativism headed by immoral tyrants, some of them in Roman collars, wars against the truth of Christ and His Church. In stark contrast, the culture of life and virtue opposes the culture of death and sin. Sadly, it often appears that the culture of death is winning.
The divisiveness of the recent presidential election shows exactly how polarized we are as a people. Even pro-life activists opposed each other. A fellow rescuer who sat in at abortion mills with me in the 1970s defended voting for Hillary Clinton as the real pro-life option stunning many of his old friends. The level name-calling, and mud-slinging was, if not unprecedented, at the very least distressing. We did, indeed, see brother against brother. And many ominous signs continue to plague us. I’ll give just two examples.
In November, Colorado voters massively supported a measure allowing physician-assisted suicide, the second state after Washington (in 2008) to legalize euthanasia by popular vote.1 This brings the number of states turning doctors into killers to six: Oregon, Washington, Vermont, California, Montana and Colorado along with the District of Columbia. Several states specifically exonerate the death agents from prosecution, a perfect scenario for sadistic Kevorkian-like killers to come to the “rescue” of sick and depressed souls like Brittany Maynard. Belgium, a nominally Catholic country, leads the world in permissive euthanasia even allowing the killing of terminally ill children. And most citizens, like the voters of Colorado, approve.2 With many state legislatures in the U.S. introducing permissive euthanasia laws, are exit clinics like those in Switzerland and Belgium on our horizon? -- very possible.
A second alarming statistic is the explosion in suicides among all ages under 75, but especially the young. Suicide rates plummeted in the ‘80s and ‘90s but began to rise sharply in 1999 and are up 24%. 3 Clearly, many in this country are in the grips of despair. Death has a strong appeal for those who have lost hope.
Not that there aren’t good signs. Many are thanking God, convinced that the United States was given a reprieve by the election of Donald Trump who, despite his many flaws, ran on the most openly pro-life platform since Roe v. Wade. He has also, in addition to his pro-life running mate Mike Pence, named numerous pro-lifers to his cabinet. Recently selected Secretary of Health and Human Services, Georgia Representative Tom Price, is a staunch defender of life. His voting record includes bans on taxpayer funding of groups like Planned Parenthood and embryonic stem cell research, criminalizing interstate transport of minors for abortion, and extending the equal protection clause of the Constitution, the 14th amendment, to babies in the womb.4 He is only one among other champions for life named by Trump including Jeff Sessions as Attorney General,5 Nikki Haley as Ambassador to the U.N, 6 no-exceptions Mike Pompeo as Director of the CIA,7 and Reince Priebus who calls himself a “100% psalm 139 pro-life Republican” as Chief of Staff.8 Trump also promises to nominate strict Constitutional constructionists to the Supreme Court beginning with his first yet-to-be-named nominee on day one of his term. These are certainly good signs, but Christians, while we pray for our secular leaders, don’t put our trust in them. Nevertheless, like the pagan King Cyrus who ended the Jews’ Babylonian exile and helped them rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, Donald Trump may play a similar role for us. Christians have certainly been in exile for the past eight years!
I want to encourage readers to embrace what I believe is a virtue most needed in our day – hope. The psalmist tells us, “The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” (Psalm 147:11) It is He, not a political candidate or any other person of influence who never fails us. What exactly is the virtue of hope? It is, according to the Baltimore Catechism, “the virtue by which we firmly trust that God, who is all-powerful and faithful to His promises, will in His mercy give us eternal happiness and the means to obtain it.”9 St. Paul calls hope a “sure and firm anchor of the soul, reaching even behind the veil where our forerunner Jesus has entered for us.” (Hebrews 6:19-20)
We first receive the theological virtue of hope in the Sacrament of Baptism. But hope doesn’t imply that salvation is easy or that God will just do it all for us if we keep our fingers crossed. We need to cooperate with the graces we receive and persevere in the struggle which often involves catastrophic suffering. Consider just one tragedy, the recent wildfires in Tennessee. Entire towns were demolished in the flames and yet, at one burnt out home in Sevier County, the one thing left standing was a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. At the evacuated Dollywood amusement park, an employee cleaning up found a partially burnt scrap of Scripture reading, "O LORD, to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness." ( Joel 1:19-20)10 Several other workers present corroborated his story. Christ suffers with us in the midst of our worst trials and remains near to give us hope.
My last example comes from one of the worst man-initiated tragedies in human history, the bombing of Hiroshima. Eight German Jesuit priests who lived only 6/10s of a mile from ground zero survived along with their rectory. Not only that, but not one of the priests experienced any physical damage from the radiation fallout. Their survival is unexplainable in human terms. The priests attributed it to the fact they were living out the Fatima message and prayed the rosary every day.11 The Lord left them as witnesses to hope.
God will never force us to trust in Him and hope in His mercy. We can reject the virtue of hope as Judas did despairing of God’s love for us, believing our sins are too big for Him. Peter also betrayed Christ and experienced the same temptation as Judas, but instead of despairing he repented “weeping bitterly.” His example illustrates that hope is necessary for salvation. It is the antidote to discouragement and despair a sure prescription for final perseverance at the hour of death.
But the big question is how do we increase our hope? Is it as easy as practicing the power of positive thinking? Having a positive outlook toward life is certainly a natural good, but far from the virtue of hope. Hope requires us to recognize that we aren’t in control no matter how positive our thinking, and that we will, without a doubt, find ourselves in situations of serious suffering that we must struggle to survive without giving up. And that is where the supernatural virtue of hope comes to our aid.
1 Colorado End of Life Options Act, Proposition 106 (2016) https://ballotpedia.org/Colorado_End_of_Life_Options_Act,_Proposition_106_(2016)
2 The Righty to Die in Belgium, PBS News Hour
3 U.S. Suicide Rate up 24 Percent since 1999: CDC, Healthfinder.gov, online at https://healthfinder.gov/News/Article.aspx?id=710236&source=govdelivery
4 Josh Denton, PHHS nominee Rep. Tom Price a longtime advocate of cutting federal funding of abortion, Live Action News, http://liveactionnews.org/hhs-nominee-rep-tom-price-longtime-advocate-cutting-federa-funding-abortion/.
9 The New Confraternity Edition Revised Baltimore Catechism and Mass No. 3, Seton Press, Front Royal, VA, 1998, p. 70.
10 WMAZ TV, Channel 13, December 3, 2016, http://www.13wmaz.com/news/local/dollywood-worker-finds-burned-bible-page-after-wildfires/362324608