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Hope: A Beginner's Manual

A week before Christmas, I got an email from UCLA Health with tips for staying mentally healthy during the holidays. The tips included visualizing a successful holiday season with healthy boundaries. They also suggested repeating a positive affirmation many times a day…such as “this will be a productive day.”

It occurred to me that the medical community was encouraging people to practice hopefulness. I don’t know much about hope as a psychological concept, but I do know it as a spiritual one – in fact, it has long been recognized as one of the three great theological virtues: faith, hope and love (Cor 13:13).

We are starved for hope today. As we begin a new year, wouldn’t it be great to be hopeful again? Put another way, wouldn’t it be great to have a deep sense of direction that sustains us in this impermanent, unreliable world?

Jesus’ antidote for human hopelessness he called the “Kingdom of God.” Thomas Groome describes the Kingdom of God as a great utopian vision of God indwelling in people’s lives and in the world. Jesus said that this vision was not solely meant for later, in eternal time. It was meant for now; he was inviting all of us into what Teilhard de Chardin called “universal becoming.”

“I came so that they may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10)

Knowing, our penchant for left-brained thinking and our general control issues, St. Paul left us with three aids in our quest to realize the Kingdom of God in our lives: the three virtues mentioned above.

Faith teaches us to tolerate ambiguity.

With faith, we relinquish our drive to control everything. We come to terms with the fact that we are never going to see the whole picture, because the whole picture is well beyond human understanding.

Love pushes us beyond our own personal advantage and into compassion and mercy.

Love is the change engine which reaches into each person’s soul and challenges us to transform ourselves and our society.

Hope is the memory-keeper.

Hope stands on the heights, sees God’s ultimate intentions for creation and for humankind and holds firm to them. Keeping an eye on the long-view, hope undergirds faith and love, absorbing the tensions that continually batter and beleaguer them.

Some of us tend to think of hope as a pleasant feeling, when in actuality, it is less about feeling a certain way than it is about seeing things a certain way. Fr. Ronald Rolheiser writes about hope in this way: [Hope is] 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.

UCLA Health’s visualizations and positive affirmation tips were straight out of hope’s playbook. As we turn to 2022, let’s do so from the heights. Let’s hold fast to God’s ultimate intentions for creation and for humankind. Let’s celebrate the moments (large and small) when we notice the Kingdom of God breaking through. Let’s hope, repeating a positive affirmation…such as “today, in some small way, I will advance the Kingdom of God.

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