December 15, 2013
Third Sunday of Advent
R. (cf. Is 35:4) Lord, come and save us.
A man approached a little league baseball game one afternoon. He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy responded, "Eighteen to nothing--we're behind." "Boy," said the spectator, "I'll bet you're discouraged." "Why should I be discouraged?" replied the little boy. "We haven't even gotten up to bat yet!" That’s what I call optimism! Yet, is optimism a quality that we as Christians ought to possess?
What is optimism? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, optimism is a philosophical outlook, which suggests that “the actual world is the best of all possible worlds.” Also: A view or belief which assumes the ultimate predominance of good over evil in the universe—that this world, by our efforts, can be perfected. All we need to do is to look around this world to see that this clearly is not “the best of all possible worlds” and that good is victorious over evil in the universe. In its classic sense, then, the Christian is not meant to be “optimistic.”
Instead, to be precise, the Christian is not meant to be optimistic, but rather is to be hopeful. What is this hope? And how is it different that being optimistic? It is the quality of waiting in expectation for something desired. The difference: Optimism is about what WE do. Hope is about what GOD does. The optimist expects that all will be perfected—and s/he is ready to do whatever is necessary to bring it about. The hopeful person instead waits in expectation for something desired to come about—ultimately in a way that does not depend on him/her. This is a very critical difference that has made great deal of difference to a great deal of people. In summary, the optimist lives for this world, while the hopeful person lives in this world with the next in mind.
We as followers of Jesus are to be the hopeful person, who lives in this world with the next in mind. Does this mean that the Christian lives for heaven instead of this world, resulting in a dangerous neglect of this world? In fact, it is the optimist who, in the extreme, lives only for this world that is the most dangerous force in history. These are people are “optimists” like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, who, being optimistic, and who lived with the expectation of perfecting this world (according to their vision) that wrecked such havoc and misery on the world. For, once we think the goal is to live for a perfect world, we will employ any means to that end. As Lenin famously said about his revolution: “You have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet.” For him, his so-called “few eggs” were 10-20 million killed. Or Hitler’s six million victims in concentration camps. Or Mao’s perhaps 45 million killed in his revolution in the late 50’s and early 60’s.
The Christian is therefore not specifically an optimist—but rather is hopeful—living in this world with hope for fulfillment in the next—looking not so much for what s/he can do, but more so what God does.
The scriptures of today—and advent in general—call us to this hopeful living The prophet Isaiah promises, “The desert and the parched land will exult; the steppe will rejoice and bloom.” And St. James counsels us to cling to God’s promises in hope: “Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord.”The call of the Christian life: Trusting that, as we live in this world, we are not to perfect it, but live with eternal life and its perfection in mind. How? We treat other human beings as having eternal souls and possessing an everlasting dignity. It is this hopeful vision that has led to the greatest humanitarian successes in this world. Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., all saw the eternal dignity of persons created in God’s image, and with this hope, unleashed unparalleled goodness in this world.
While the hopeful Christian lives in this world with an eye on the next, great goodness is released, whereas the so called optimist, in his utopian dreams, has left a wake of carnage and destruction: For, when we do not see the eternal dignity of human persons, they can be degraded, harmed, and even destroyed if they are seen as obstacles to the vision of the perfect world. The call of the scriptures, in our small part of creation, is to live in hope, to live with the quality of waiting in expectation for something desired—that we have all been created for something great, not yet fulfilled, and something not to be created by our efforts alone.
How do we do this? Only with God’s help. Hope is seen by our faith as a theological virtue—that is, a way of living, only possible with an infusion of God’s grace.As we come to the Eucharist, our sure and certain sign of the hope that life is about more than just this world, that life is a foretaste of something more, let this infusion of God’s grace help us live in hope, that we are waiting for something more, and, while we wait, we resist every effort to diminish others to anything less than their eternal, magnificent dignity: persons created in the image of the Creator and created to live with God now and for eternity.
With God’s grace, let us live this next week as people of hope: primarily by seeing each person—our spouse, our children, the other driver on the road, the fellow shopper, our co-worker, let us see them all with eyes of eternity—that they have a dignity, despite any failings, in eternity, for they have been created in God’s image for eternal life.
Let’s go this week and live in hope—seeking not so much what we can make of this world, but rather seeking to discover what our God can do—his eternal promises for all of His beloved children.