“Faith is the foundation of the hope that we have.” [1]
– St. John Baptist de La Salle –

Many of us were very much taken by Amanda Gorman’s poem at the recent inauguration ceremony. It’s simplicity, rhythm, authenticity, and hope reverberated in the hearts of those witnessing the scaled-down, isolated ceremony on a cold day in Washington, D.C. Another of her poems is entitled “The Miracle of Morning.” It gives a description of what hope can look like, even today, to those who pay sincere attention. “I see a dad with a stroller taking a jog. Across the street, a bright-eyed girl chases her dog. A grandma on a porch fingers her rosaries. She grins as her young neighbor brings her groceries.” [2]

These are expressions of what may be called a sacramental sensibility, fostered I should think in some small part by her family’s ties to St. Bridget’s in Los Angeles. Amanda looked beyond and through the world around her, with a wider, larger, more inclusive perspective. One might say that she saw with the eyes of faith.

De La Salle writes that “Faith is the foundation of the hope that we have.” And scripture has it that “Faith is confidence in what we hope for, and assurance about what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1) Those are rich statements, but it’s harder to know what they might mean in the daily world of pandemic life. Where and how does one live hope today? Chesterton wisely wrote “Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. … As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.” Hoping for the best is certainly different than hoping for truth, justice, peace, and genuine goodness in one’s life and relationships. The first is wishful and the second takes work. The first is easy and the second is hard. The first is impersonal and the second is very personal. Jonathan Sacks writes, “Optimism is the belief that things are going to get better. Hope is the belief that we can make things better. Optimism is a passive virtue; hope is an active one. It takes no courage to be an optimist, but it does need courage to hope.”[3]

One good illustration of this kind of hope comes from Ronald Rolheiser. In 2011 he underwent 168 chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer, and he kept a journal, vowing “I’ll get through it! I’ll endure it!” His hope was focused on getting to the end of the treatments, ignoring all other matters of importance. About halfway through these many weeks of treatment, he had a revelation. “…I woke up, I woke up to the fact that I was putting my life on hold, that I wasn’t really living but only enduring each day in order check it off and eventually reach that magical 168th day when I could start living again. I realized that I was wasting a season of my life. Moreover, I realized that what I was living through was sometimes rich precisely because of the impact of chemotherapy in my life. That realization remains one of the special graces in my life… The coronavirus has put us all, in effect, on a conscripted sabbatical and it’s subjecting those who have contracted it to their own type of chemotherapy. And the danger is that we will put our lives on hold as we go through this extraordinary time and will just endure rather than let ourselves be graced by what lies within this uninvited season. Yes, there will be frustration and pain in living this through, but that’s not incompatible with happiness.”[4] Lived hope, real hope, embraces the graces that lie within reach. In fact, these are the only ones that God truly places before us at each moment of each day in each circumstance. Our trust / faith lies here.

Hope “is congenital, in the gut, a trust, not deflected by anything, that our lives are not mere accident, that we are more than brute chips fallen off the conveyor-belt of chance, that we have individual significance and destiny, that every small act of conscience and fidelity has meaning within the eternal schema of things, and that the tiny rivulet of our lives is flowing into the great ocean of meaning and eternity where, far from being absorbed or obliterated, we will enjoy perfect, self-conscious mutuality in love in an ecstatic, communal, yet individual, eternal fulfilment. This is hope, as we feel it practically.”[5]

Hope does not need to be dour or resigning. Hope needs to be alive and engaged. “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Rom 12:12) For those of us involved in Lasallian educational ministries – in whatever capacity – remember De La Salle’s inspired insight that “[The students] are your hope, your joy, and your crown of glory before our Lord Jesus Christ.” [6] That is certainly enough to keep us grounded and motivated to look for and see the graces hidden within the very real challenges and difficulties associated with the current pandemic.

How do these final lines of Amanda Gorman’s poem echo in your life, ministry, mind & heart?

Let every dawn find us courageous, brought closer;
Heeding the light before the fight is over.
When this ends, we’ll smile sweetly, finally seeing
In testing times, we became the best of beings.[7]

A PDF of this reflection is HERE
[1] De La Salle, John Baptist, Meditations by St. John Baptist de La Salle, trans. Richard Arnandez, and Augustine Loes, eds. Augustine Loes and Francis Huether, (Landover, MD: Christian Brothers Conference, 1994), Meditations 40.3
[2] https://www.treatsforthesoul.org/the-miracle-of-morning/
[3] Sacks, Jonathan. Celebrating Life (Continuum Press, 2004) p. 175
[4] https://ronrolheiser.com/love-in-the-time-of-covid-19/#.YByZA-hKguW
[5] https://ronrolheiser.com/practical-hope/#.YBxF3OhKguU
[6] Meditations, op. cit., 207.3
[7] https://www.treatsforthesoul.org/the-miracle-of-morning/