March 11, 2016


Christian optimism springs from a realistic faith

Some days, it’s hard to be optimistic about anything. The economy is not what it should be. Class warfare is raging as our government leaders and political candidates call each other names, and peace—at home and abroad—is more elusive than ever. Today, more than ever, we need Christian optimism and the theological virtue of hope.

What would be the source of this hope? Surely not the political process. Surely not the false glitter and empty promises delivered to us by the media. If the past year has taught us anything, it is that when the center does not hold, the extreme ideologues on the left and right rush in to fill the void fueled by a 24-hour news cycle that is desperate for the latest “gotcha” moment to report, repeat endlessly and exaggerate as needed to feed our ravenous appetite for “news” that is largely gossip and scandal mongering.

And yet, Christians are called to proclaim Good News. We are challenged by virtue of our baptismal promises to reach out to others—especially those who have the least reason to believe us—and assure them that we have all been saved in Jesus Christ. This is what recent popes have called “the new evangelization.” It is what Pope Francis calls “missionary discipleship,” the commitment to share our joy with people who have lost all hope on the peripheries of modern society.

In order to share our joy, we first have to uncover it, to release it from the layers of gloom and doom that overlay it, and to allow it to break through authentically and enthusiastically for all to see. To be successful, missionary disciples must be joyful people whose hope is grounded in the person of Jesus Christ.

The purpose of the season of Lent is to help us uncover our joy, to strip away layers of sin and guilt that prevent us from experiencing and sharing the power of Christian hope. Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, Lent helps us to clean house and to recover the roots of authentic Christian joy, so that we will be free to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection at Easter and to share our joy with the whole world at Pentecost.

We are especially blessed in this Holy Year of Mercy to be able to reflect on the essential relationship between Christian optimism and our belief in God’s unconditional love and mercy. Scripture shows us, again and again, that there is no real hope for us as individuals or as communities without faith in a benevolent and merciful God. Christians are realists. We acknowledge our sinfulness and the tendency toward corruption that exists in every social program no matter how well-intended or effectively designed.

We do not place our trust in princes (or politicians). We trust in the Lord.

Christians believe that God humbled himself and became man in order to show us that true strength is not found simply in the absence of weakness. By his words and example, Jesus taught us that genuine love is never self-serving. Our hope is not in the strong man—or woman—who promises to liberate us from corrupt social systems. Our hope is in the One who provides us with the grace we need to change our hearts so that we can work together to change our world.

Christian optimism is realistic, not ideological. It focuses on virtues such as prudence, temperance, courage and justice. It relies on the spiritual values of faith, hope and charity, and it takes seriously our fallen human nature without ever questioning the power of God’s grace to heal us, make us whole again, and set us free.

This is the purpose of Christian asceticism: to help us open our hearts to the saving grace of Jesus Christ, who alone can liberate us from the burden of sin that weighs us down and blinds us to the truth about ourselves and our world.

Every year at this time, we celebrate the power of grace to dispel the dark shadows of death and despair. It’s no coincidence that Lent begins in winter and prepares us for the springtime of Easter. At this time of year, above all, we need to cultivate a realistic hope for the future.

This Lent, let’s turn off the nightly news and spend an hour meditating on the Way of the Cross. What we see reported every night is a world that has lost its way. Let’s walk with Jesus on a journey to the greatest act of love and mercy ever carried out by one human being for others—for us. Let’s discover Christian optimism in the hope of the Resurrection and in the joy of Easter.

—Daniel Conway

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