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This morning, as I was mindlessly scrolling through social media feeds and reading the day’s headlines, I was confronted with a certain detachment and ambivalence that has now become routine. It’s nothing new; as far as I know, it has been the job of news personalities and politicians to stoke panic and exploit the public’s anxieties since time immemorial. Even so, I have noticed recently a trend in the way that I and many of those around me now respond to what we see happening in the world. It’s not fear, but something far more pernicious: despair. It all starts to stack up after a while.
"When it seems like all that the world has to offer is bad news, it can be easy to feel helpless".
Turn on the news and you are guaranteed to be confronted with global poverty, the impending threat of climate change, and religious persecution around the world, just to name a few of the horrors one will hear about daily. How can anybody be aware of the myriad disasters facing humanity and also stay hopeful? For years my faith was overshadowed by what I used to believe was a natural response to these realities. I still believed, but every aspect of how I practiced my religion was imbued with a sort of tension. This tension, as I was only partially aware of at the time, was the result of my refusal to truly trust God. My doubt, my hesitance to put all of my faith in God’s benevolence slowly began to weigh on me. I took this to be some sort of personal failing, or perhaps I just assumed that this was what it meant to be a Christian in the 21st century. The world gets worse and worse, and we all have to deal with it and move on. After all, we are never truly at home here on this Earth. Plus, those who proceeded us had it far worse.
"What right have I to feel despair, with so many material comforts at my disposal, and with the loving support of friends and family available to console me?".
During my early college years, I accepted this outlook without much question. But as time went on, I allowed whatever silver linings I had originally recognized to become obscured by a casual pessimism. My relationship with the Divine became devoid of that theological virtue that St. Paul exhorts us to keep: hope. My belief lacked the aspiration for happiness that God has placed in all of our hearts. My prayers and devotions were becoming empty gestures, exercises in futility, separated as they were from earnest belief in the possibility of salvation. I had not stopped believing in the promises of Christ, but I had become sufficiently apathetic toward the world around me so as to lose any sense of what lay beyond it. I was not practicing the Catholic faith out of love, but out of a begrudging sense of duty. I cynically accepted it as the Truth, but failed to recognize it for its own beauty. This was all compounded by an overall sense of guilt, a feeling that I was not grateful enough for all of the blessings in my own life. Once I recontextualized my own petty grievances within the scope of the larger problems I saw all around me, things did not seem so bad after all. Instead of providing consolation, however, these realizations only led to more guilt for my own selfishness. Such continued this cycle until it became normalized, and I did not know any other way to process my grief.
"When we stop believing that God is in control, that things are unfolding as they should, we quickly realize that the only alternative is chaos".
I’ve been very vague in my recounting of this period in my life, but that is only because it is hard to describe. To try to define hopelessness is a difficult task. How does one describe the lack of something? This, in my opinion, is why despair is such an easy sin to fall into. When we stop believing that God is in control, that things are unfolding as they should, we quickly realize that the only alternative is chaos. Despair is incredibly disorienting, it completely throws off our understanding of how the universe is ordered. It is in the midst of this chaos that I came to understand why hope is important enough to be mentioned in between faith and love during that letter to the Corinthians. It is the anchor, it grounds us and provides direction and clarity of purpose. How can we have faith and love if we do not know for what purpose we are living? So I reject the cynicism that is so characteristic of the modern age, and which once defined my faith. It is hope that will save the world, and indeed all of mankind, at least those who choose to accept it. It is easy to give up, as I had.
"The true challenge lies in believing in a better future, a beatific reality that God has called each of us to pursue".
To this day, I still have to guard myself against that insidious temptation to lose hope. Through prayer, regular reception of the Sacraments, and involvement in the community of believers, I have found solace and peace that I previously did not know. It is not always easy. I find myself particularly vulnerable whenever I experience disappointments in professional and private life, or find that my plans have been disrupted or reoriented. Now, however, I feel better equipped to offer that suffering to God, and take comfort in His promise to all of us:
"For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope". (Jeremiah 29:11)