On December 7, 2016, Pope Francis began a catechetical series on Christian hope. He opened with the following words:
It is very important, because hope never disappoints. Optimism disappoints, but hope does not! We have such need, in these times which appear dark, in which we sometimes feel disoriented at the evil and violence which surrounds us, at the distress of so many of our brothers and sisters. We need hope! We feel disoriented and even rather discouraged, because we are powerless and it seems this darkness will never end.
Through this catechesis, in his characteristically clear and narrative teaching style, Pope Francis has shared wisdom that holds great relevance to all grappling with the reality of our troubled times. I am eagerly looking forward to reading our Holy Father’s new book based on this catechesis, On Hope.
Of the many golden nuggets in Pope Francis’s teaching on hope, one particularly resonates with me at this time: “Hope opens new horizons, making us capable of dreaming what is not even imaginable.” Perhaps one of the reasons I am drawn to this sentiment is that, during this season of Advent, we look for that star on the horizon that heralds the coming of Christ, our hope.
Throughout the ages, though they are always beyond us, we have tried to measure to the edge of the sky and the depths of the horizon. We have declared that we can “go to that line” and not a bit further, because beyond that line is the unknown. Beyond that line, we have no control.
We like control. Sometimes we even try to control God. We imagine the way we might react to a situation and expect God to do the same. Like Jonah, who waited for God to hail down his wrath upon Nineveh because, in his opinion, “they deserved it,” we too stand awaiting God’s judgment. We wait for the hail and fire and the wrath of God’s judgment. We forget that God’s ways are not our ways.
God’s ways are unpredictable, full of surprises, and we usually aren’t ready for them.
Take, for instance, the classic interpretation of the Nativity scene with Mary and Joseph gazing adoringly at the Baby Jesus. Then, recall the events that preceded that night and just how out of control they must have seemed. Consider Joseph: when he first learned of Mary’s pregnancy, he must have felt that it was a situation that was completely out of control. She had, in his mind, brought great dishonor upon herself and him—before God.
But then he had a dream—a dream beyond his wildest imagination. A dream of an angel who said Mary was carrying God’s child. He wondered how this could be possible, but through God, hope was born, as the dawn of a new day on a new horizon.
When things seem out-of-control and it seems that all hope is lost, never let go of hope. The God of surprises always has his ways.
Download a poster of the Pope’s words: “Hope opens new horizons, making us capable of dreaming what is not even imaginable.”