As we begin this New Year, we stand looking forward at a fresh onset to the coming year, while looking backwards at what we’ve experienced in the year behind us. As we do this, we need to hold on to hope, which is both a theological virtue and a psychological reality. A virtue builds up and steadies a person according to their nature in a way that orients them toward what God created them for, to: become partakers of the divine nature. (2 Peter 1:4).
According to faith, our hope is based on God’s promise, the future happiness to which He has called us – to be with Him forever.
On what basis can we believe that our desires will be fulfilled? Our hope is based on God’s renewing, recreating love. God not only created us, He is in the process of creating us right now, or we would no longer remain in existence. God creates us out of love. His desire is toward us, bringing us continually into existence and bringing us toward what He desires for us. God blesses us in accordance with His love and also what we hope for from Him, trusting Him to fulfill His promises.
This hope of ours draws God’s promised future here into the present, to affect our lives today. This trustworthy hope allows us to face the difficulties of our present lives because we know that these difficulties are leading us to a worthwhile goal; that our lives will not end in empty futility. A French theologian of the 8th century said, “Christ is held by the hand of hope. We hold Him and are held. But it is a greater good that we are held by Christ than that we hold Him. For we can hold Him only so long as we are held by Him.”
Without hope, we falter. Proverbs 13:12 tells us, Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
As Catholic therapists, we hear every day in counseling sessions of the heart sickness of a deferred hope. We hear of loss, abandonment, loneliness, abuse, doubt, despair, and death. These are a constant challenge to the hope that faith brings into our lives. We need one another and we need constant prayer to stand against the assault that modern life makes on hope.
This is our hope for the New Year:
to be able to enter into each other’s lives more deeply and to enter more deeply into the life of Christ.
To bring hope to the lonely and hopeless, we must listen to the very depths of their cries. Hope is offered in and through the experience of our being present to them. This presence is needed to undo the unbearable aloneness of hopelessness.
I have heard from people such things as:
- I hate God. He doesn’t keep his promises.
- My life is terrible.
- You know a tree by its fruits: God’s fruit in my life has been loneliness and pain.
- I’m losing my faith.
Suffering can cause us to question, curse or even deny God. Suffering is a trial and when we curse God in our sufferings, we are rejecting the only power in heaven and earth that can bring redemption out of what we are going through. God anticipates and responds to these questions in His Word (see the Book of Job). The answer here is that the suffering of the innocent is a mystery that human intelligence cannot fully grasp. There are no easy answers. Any answer that contains the word “just” (as in – “just do this” or “just look at it this way”) has not grasped the depth of the problem. God’s ways are not our ways. There is a deep mystery in human suffering. In the Scriptures, the term ‘mystery’ means more than we “can’t figure it out”. It means that there is such an abundance of light revealed in the problem that we can’t take it all in.
The truth of the Gospel does not do away with human suffering but casts all suffering in the light of our hope of redemption. All of our suffering, when accepted in love and united to Christ completes the work of His suffering here on earth for the sake of the Church. (Colossians 1:24) This is the source of our hope: uniting our sufferings to His for the sake of others. In the Cross of Christ, God draws near to each of us in the unique agony of our lives. It is He who un-does our unbearable aloneness in the midst of all that we suffer.
There is a power in suffering that draws a cooperating Christian closer to Christ Himself, who is now, because of His Cross, Resurrection and Ascension, capable of entering into the heart of every human situation. Jesus turned the evil done to Him into the basis for our redemption. Every kind of suffering can be transformed from man’s weakness into God’s power. Our yielding to the Cross becomes our mission on earth, sharing in the redemptive mission of the Redeemer. Without this participation in the sufferings of Christ, our own suffering feels useless and depressing. Our hope is in His promise, no matter how excruciating our situation.
Those of us called to service as Catholic therapists are Good Samaritans to those who are suffering. We pour into their wounds the oil and wine of faith-filled hope and loving presence. We offer our very selves, our “I” in an openness to enter into the sufferings of others, to alleviate the unbearable aloneness and direct the path of suffering to share in the redemptive suffering of Christ (“Christ in you, the hope of glory” Colossians 1:27), thus lifting the depression, isolation, and meaninglessness of human suffering. In this gift of shared self is born the gift of shared hope.
This is our hope for the New Year: to be able to enter into each other’s lives more deeply and to enter more deeply into the life of Christ, “Who loved us and gave himself for us” (Ephesians 5:2). So then when we offer service to the sufferings of another, we do it for Him, who identified with our every situation (Matthew 25:35-40):
‘for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
’‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
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