In his usual insightful and clear style Fr. Robert Maloney, CM addresses the big “why”question and Christian hope in a piece which appeared in America under the title “A Feathered Thing” .
Borrowing an image from Emily Dickinson “Hope is the thing with feathers” he writes… “So many of life’s events conspire to beat hope down. But perched in the soul of the stalwart, it chants its tune persistently. Sometimes it expresses itself in the simplest ways. Over the years several incidents have made me ponder the resiliency of hope.
We have no ready answers to such complaints, only a persistent hope that points us beyond our grief. A feathered thing perches in our souls, singing out.
“These days Latin American theologians speak of la esperanza transformadora, “transforming hope.” Without it life is pessimistic; little movement toward change takes place. But when transforming hope resides in a person, it generates the energy we call anger and initiates creative action. Perched in the soul, it sings its song persistently. It cannot be dissuaded.
“Christian hope is both realistic and optimistic. It is realistic because it recognizes life’s tragedies: sickness, sin, infidelity, suffering, natural calamities, violence, war, death. But it is optimistic because it trusts in a new heaven and a new earth, where sin and death are vanquished. Believing in the words of the Creed, on which we rarely reflect, it looks forward to “the resurrection of the body” and “the life of the world to come.”
“In the midst of one of the Czech Republic’s most difficult times, Václav Havel stated: “Either we have hope within us or we don’t. It is a dimension of the soul…. Hope in this deep and powerful sense is the ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed…. It is this hope, above all, that gives us the strength to live and continually to try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do here and now.” That kind of hope is the feathered thing that perches in the soul—and enables our hearts to soar.
Robert P. Maloney, C.M., former superior general of the Congregation of the Mission, serves as administrator for Dream, a joint project of the Community of Sant’Egidio and the Daughters of Charity for combating AIDS in Africa.
As a Christian and psychologist, I would like to add an affirmation of this message with supportive research in positive psychology. In my book, The Optimism Advantage, I explain how optimism is not motivational hype or Pollyanna Thinking. True optimism is earned through a track record of overcoming obstacles. The more obstacles and challenges you face, the more confident you are that you can do that again. Faith is one of the best ways to foster optimism for we know that we are in God’s hands. That frees us to face the day knowing He has our back. Research also shows that optimists are realists. They want to know all about the problems they face so they can get busy doing what they can to overcome them. That is why the Serenity Prayer is a powerful statement in fostering optimism and realistm–“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” We are blessed both in having hope for a new body in God’s kingdom but a chance for His supportive presence and power on our journey here on earth.