May 8, 2015


May we never lose hope

On April 30, Pope Francis “tweeted” a simple message: “Amid so many problems, even grave, may we not lose hope in the infinite mercy of God.”

This is a powerful message. It affirms the reality of evil in the world, and the grave sinfulness that distorts God’s plan for humanity and for creation itself. But it also reminds us that no matter how great the sin, God’s mercy is infinitely greater.

The beheading and massacre of Christians that the world has witnessed at the hands of ISIS is not a new phenomenon. Brutal martyrdom is a constant in 2,000 years of Christian history. Think of St. Jean de Brebeuf and the other Jesuits missionaries who preached the Gospel to native peoples in Canada in the 17th century. Their stories are horrifying but at the same time hopeful.

As described in Magnificat magazine in an article on April 23, “In 1649, the warlike Iroquois tribe captured and brutally killed Jean and his fellow missionary Gabriel Lalemont. Jean was bound to a stake. His flesh was torn off and roasted before him. Hot irons were plunged into his body. His lips were cut off. He was ‘baptized’ with boiling water. Jean died without uttering a single moan. The Iroquois had never known one so courageous. They cut out his heart and ate it, hoping to gain some of his power.”

This is a real-life horror story every bit as evil and repugnant as the brutal, inhuman acts we have witnessed in the Middle East in recent days, every bit as unconscionable and, we would say, unforgivable as the Holocaust perpetrated by the sophisticated savages of the Third Reich.

And yet, Pope Francis reminds us that we have hope in the infinite mercy of God.

St. Jean de Brebeuf experienced God’s mercy by growing close to Jesus and his Mother, Mary, in prayer. While on retreat in France, Jean begged God to return him to the missions in North America. At the end of the retreat, “Jean received a series of visible consolations that ended with an appearance of Mary, ‘as though in an azure cloud, nursing the Child Jesus.’ A year later, Jean made a private vow to serve God to the point of death.” Closeness to Jesus and Mary was the source for St. Jean de Brebeuf’s courage and his hope.

In his weekly columns for this newspaper, Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin has pointed out more than once the consistent theme of “closeness” in the writing and talks of Pope Francis.

Closeness to God connects us with his infinite mercy and gives us hope—no matter how grave the problems are all around us. That’s why daily prayer, regular reception of the Eucharist, frequent confession and the willingness to move beyond our “comfort zones” to serve the needs of others, especially the poor, is so important. Unless we are close to Jesus, the sin of the world is overwhelming. Unless we cling to the one whose death and resurrection have set us free, we have no hope.

Cardinal Francis E. George, who returned to the Lord last month after a long battle with cancer, once offered a foreboding prophecy: “I expect to die in my bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.” The cardinal’s words were not intended to discourage us. On the contrary, he sought to affirm the enduring witness of the Church’s hope in the face of social evils that continue to threaten our religious freedom even now in 21st-century America.

Human history, including the history of the Church, recounts the savagery of man’s inhumanity to man. The passion, death and resurrection of Jesus did not end the kind of brutality that the Lord himself experienced on the via crucis (the way of the cross).

But the great victory of Jesus over sin and death, which we celebrate this Easter season, opened the floodgates allowing the “infinite ocean of God’s mercy” to pour out over the whole world and all of human history—past, present and future. We have hope not because evil has been eliminated, but because its power has been overwhelmed by love.

Amid so many grave problems, in our personal lives and in the world we live in, we should not lose hope. If we stay close to Jesus and Mary, they will console us and give us courage filled with hope. Whether we die in our beds, in prison for our faith, or as martyrs in the public square, God’s infinite mercy sustains us.

Father of mercies, through the intercession of St. Jean de Brebeuf, draw us very close to Jesus and Mary. May our hearts be one with theirs in the moment of trial.

—Daniel Conway

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