Practicing the Virtue of Hope

Practicing the Virtue of Hope November 6, 2016

This will not be about voting.

It is, however, about lying awake imagining all the possible quasi-apocalyptic outcomes and after-effects of the impending election.  I am truly hard-pressed to think of any realistically possible good outcome – of the election itself, of the probable backlash, or of the one or the other set of scandals and indiscretions that will inevitably plague the next presidency before it even starts.

Despite my repeated insistence on where Christians’ ultimate hope and allegiance are, I must confess: the apocalypticism gets to me.  Yes, it does seem different this year, even though that’s such a familiar refrain it sounds clichéd as soon as it’s said.  How different is the “different this time”, this time?  I guess time will tell.  Maybe we will after all, as in previous years, decompress from the apocalyptic fever-pitch once the returns are in, wake up to another risen sun on Wednesday and go back to business as usual.

Yet, even with a relative best-case scenario in which things don’t literally or figuratively explode, it’s hard to imagine us as a nation really healing from the myriad toxic divisions eating us from within like a cancer.  We’re not at a mature enough point for that.  And we certainly can’t depend on our next president to make that happen.  My biggest fear, overarching all thoughts of how things could play out, is that maybe we still haven’t hit rock bottom.  Maybe we can, maybe we will, sink still lower in our thoughts and words toward each other, in what we do and fail to do.

And that’s exactly why I need the virtue of hope nowThe seeds of it are indeed embedded in the liturgy: I need the prayers of the blessed virgin Mary and all the angels and saints and you my brothers and sisters.  I need the reorientation of the communion of saints at the supper of the Lamb, to whom alone belong all glory and honor forever and ever, amen.

I need the conviction to say with Martin Luther King that the long moral arc of the universe bends toward justice, and with Julian of Norwich that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

I need eschatology.

The thought that struck me on the way to Mass was that eschatology is the antidote to apocalypticism.  And not of a kind that can be deferred away to some otherworldly end-time so distant as to appear unreachable and unreal.  If the apocalypse is an end, the eschaton is a beginning.  It is the Kingdom that came in the Incarnation, will come in fullness in the Parousia, and is still at hand however insane things may get in the meantime.

And so I need the hope and trust of Psalm 146, the psalm that has steadied me through every election year since I’ve been eligible to vote.

Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!

One thing about such an obvious lack of trustworthy princes (i.e. people in powerful positions or in reach of them, gender or political inexperience notwithstanding): it does make a certain kind of misplaced hope less tempting.  Maybe the knowledge that we won’t be getting a president we could ever mistake for a Messiah can guide our focus to the true one, to the service of his Kingdom-at-hand, to seeing and serving him in all vulnerable and discarded brothers and sisters: the homeless being shoved out of sight and vilified, the assaulted being disbelieved and shamed, the unborn and all women who carry them, those without adequate health care and those pressured toward medically-assisted death, migrants fleeing danger and economic hardship and the domestic poor feeling the squeeze of limited resources, longstanding communities facing a loss of the familiar and newer ethnic and religious minorities facing a hostile reception, rural whites unjustly ignored and urban blacks unjustly criminalized, yes, even people whose views tempt us to dismiss them as nasty or deplorable.  And when in word and deed we relentlessly respect the indelible human dignity of all of these, of even these, it means being prepared for opposition from the highest courts and offices in the land and from within our own neighborhoods, and being willing if need be to suffer the consequences.

The Kingdom is hard.  And hope is gritty.  But it is the only way.

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