In trying times, how can Catholics stay hopeful?
by Jonah McKeown
Denver Newsroom, Jun 13, 2020 / 03:37 am MT (CNA).- Amid the worldwide panic surrounding coronavirus and lockdowns, as well as protests and unrest in many parts of the country in recent weeks, it can be easy for people of any faith to ask: Where is God?
Father Phillip Bochanski, director of the Courage International apostolate which ministers to people with same-sex attraction, wrote a book last year on The Virtue of Hope: How confidence in God can lead you to Heaven.
Catholics hope that they will someday be welcomed into eternal life in heaven. Additionally, Bochanski said, we can have hope in this life that the world is unfolding according to God’s divine plan.
“If we forget that we’re passing through this world, and that our goal is actually the next world…it changes our whole moral outlook on things. So hope keeps us mindful of that reality that we’re on the way, we haven’t reached our destination,” Bochanski told CNA.
“That makes all the difference in how we go about our daily responsibilities, but also big-picture questions, like what we’re going through right now.”
He told CNA that there is a difference between being hopeful, in a Catholic sense, and being simply optimistic, sanguine, or naive.
In his book, Bochanski notes that the classic Catholic definition of virtue, which comes from St. Thomas Aquinas, is of a “good habit”— something we repeat over and over, until it becomes second nature.
Some people may be more disposed to be hopeful because of their personality, Bochanski said, but the idea of hope as a virtue means it must be practiced, exercised, and sought.
Hope is one of three “theological virtues,” along with faith and love. Bochanski explained that even though these theological virtues come from God, we still have to work at them by putting them into practice, and exercising them.
“We grow in hope by striving to be hopeful, by letting it shape our actions, and the more we can live with hope, the easier it becomes to be hopeful,” he said.
For Catholics, hope starts with recognizing that God is in charge.
“Hope, for us, means trusting that God has a plan, and that he’s working out his plan even if we can’t see how it’s going to work or if we would prefer a different timing,” Bochanski said.
Jesus models the virtues for Christians, he said, and the fact that Jesus never doubted God’s saving mission is a model of hope for us.
“He didn’t need to be hopeful in the sense of having any doubts, or not knowing what was going to happen, but he models hope for us in the way that he calmly, perseveringly, carries out his mission,” he said.
In the biblical episode of Jesus’ temptation in the desert, for example, the devil offers Jesus various “shortcuts” around the Father’s plan. Jesus, because He knows the Father’s plan, rebuffs the devil’s temptations and resolutely carries out what the Father has set before Him.
“That gives us hope when we’re faced with our own part of God’s plan, but without the omnipotence and omniscience of the Lord,” he said.
“When we’re going through personal difficulties, or community difficulties, or things that are scary and violent, the question that naturally comes to mind is where is God?”
What seems like God’s absence or silence is actually God working in ways that we can’t yet see or perceive, he said.
“Hope brings us back to that reality that He’s never absent. And although I can’t see Him at the moment, I trust him enough to wait for Him to show me and to do what I can moment by moment…If we do our part, God will also do his part and carry out his plan for our lives.”
In the midst of crises, it can be easy to take on the same emotional level as the voices we hear on the news, he said.
Being hopeful in the world today has a lot to do with remaining calm— not indifferent or lax, but keeping one’s situation in perspective.
“I’m not called to save the whole world. I may not be able to do a lot in the grand scheme of things, but in my vocation, in my family, in my work, in my circle of friends, my job is to keep doing the task that God has given me to do and not to panic,” Bochanski said.
The devil likes to emphasize our apparent powerlessness, he said, or distract us from the smaller, daily tasks and acts of love we’ve been given to do.
This can sometimes lead to the spiritual state of acedia— a kind of sadness about things that are spiritual goods, or a “disgust with activity.”
There’s a certain amount of justice we can achieve in a fallen world, Bochanski said, but ultimate justice will not be realized until the Last Day.
“Hope keeps us focused on this step of the journey. One step at a time, one task at a time, one responsibility at a time, instead of letting us get panicked or overly anxious about having to do something huge. It helps us to keep our eyes on the small things in front of us and keep the world in perspective,” he said.
Bochanski said he heard from many people feeling anxious, restless, and afraid in the first days of the coronavirus lockdown— all reasonable reactions, but hope helps Christians avoid being swayed off course by the emotions of the moment, he said.
If someone is weighed down or anxious about something, modeling hope for them not only will help remind them that the present situation is not the final word, but it also can help to keep that person’s reaction in perspective, he said.
This does not mean simply telling people who are worried not to worry, but instead modeling a hopeful attitude for them.
“Our hope is always in someone or something…when our hope is in God, it’s the most real thing there is. It can’t be a false hope, because it’s based on our understanding of who God is.”
“If you have a friend who is omnipotent, and he offers to help you, you should let him. God, who is omnipotent and omniscient, has offered to help me, and I know that that is true” because God asks of Christians things that are beyond anyone’s natural ability, he said.
Bochanski recommended reading, as well as his book, the 2007 encyclical on hope by Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi.
The paradox of discipleship is freedom through surrender to God, but pride makes us think that we can handle everything ourselves. To reduce the sense of powerlessness, take time to pray and assess what God is asking you to do, Bochanski advised.
“God, because of who He is, is going to do all the heavy lifting,” Bochanski said.