August 18, 2006

Go and Make Disciples / John Valenti

The Church offers hope in action

The world today is consistently described as being in despair.

Macro-issues ranging from the war-torn Middle East to an unpredictable economy relate to our closer-to-home uneasiness about the price of gas, availability of health care and long-term retirement security.

The word “despair” literally means the negation of hope. The erosion of faith, honest public discourse and the evaporation of traditional social relationships produce among us a kind of hopelessness.

Everyone is susceptible to despair; the hidden or “covert” despair of those who “have,” and the open despair of those who do not.

We are not to confuse hope with optimism. Hope is a virtue graciously given by God apart from all deserving, and offers us a future that our own past does not warrant. It is God’s free gift of grace.

Optimism, on the other hand, is what fuels dreams of wealth, power and success that every infomercial on television tries to remedy or satisfy.

It is said that our hopes are a measure of our greatness. The question is, “What does faith have to say about restoring hope to the world?”

As Catholics, we believe that the world is good and was created good, therefore we are at home in it, and our faith is at home in it. Yet, the world falls short of God’s intention and expectation. Because of sin, the world becomes estranged from God.

Although I am responsible to do my part, I am relieved that the answer to such conditions has been addressed through Christ’s saving action. It is not our mission, it is God’s mission which calls us to change culture by confessing and witnessing God as hope in action. Our mission as Christ’s disciple community is to participate actively in this divine labor of faithful love. This witness to God’s reign is “hope in action.”

We are to serve God’s mission. Our Church and world belong to God, and God will finally determine its agenda. God’s answer through Jesus Christ brings new life in the midst of death, hope in the midst of hopelessness, and movements toward justice and reconciliation in the midst of grinding oppression.

We must witness truth and justice in a pluralistic world. We must listen to voices other than our own. In the cross and Resurrection—the paschal mystery—alone rests our hope, our strength, and it is the Eucharist that nourishes the community.

When in despair, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:7-8).

The greatest test of the Christian message in our time is whether it is able to engage and transform despair.

When God reveals himself and calls us, we must hope that he will also give us the capacity to love and serve him in return.

Hope is the confident expectation of a divine blessing. It is a hope that we will “see” God in our lives, where he is acting in love.

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord.

(John Valenti is associate director of evangelization and faith formation for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.) †


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