The National Catholic Review

We are pilgrim people, marching through time but anchored in eternity. We are waiting for a new life to unfold as we celebrate a life that we already own. This is our Christian existence. The gift of hope keeps our eyes on the future; that same hope secures our existence here and now. Hope has an immense capacity to uphold us in good times and bad. No one described it better than Paul the Apostle: “We are afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not despairing, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4: 8-9).

 

But what is the source of such hope? Where does such strength come from? We need not look far; the source is closer than we may think. It is in the word, in the power of the Spirit and in ourselves.

First, we are in possession of God’s word. Initially it orients us: it tells us who we are, where we come from and where we will go. Such vital communication is surely welcome for any traveler, but the word gives more. It tells the story of God’s mighty deeds in history. Listening to the word, we discover that we are not lonely creatures in a cosmic wilderness, but that on earth we are already in God’s homeland—on the way to entering into our full inheritance. God talks to us as befits intelligent and free partners; we are invited to assume our part in his immense project. We know this because the Word-made-flesh has told us clearly, and we have believed.

Second, we are in possession of God’s energy. Before the Teacher left his disciples he told them that “you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you” (Acts 1:8). Beyond the knowledge that they already possessed, the disciples needed energy to implement their mission. Indeed, they were baptized in the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. But the story did not end there. As God unceasingly sustains heaven and earth, he pours his energy into the hearts of his servants continuously.

Ever since the inception of the church, this energy has kept welling up in the community; those who “have eyes to see and ears to hear” (Mark 8:18) could easily see the signs of it. In the church of Jerusalem, it gave strength to Steven, the deacon, to confront his persecutors fearlessly and to pray for them gently. In the church of Calcutta, the same energy impelled Mother Teresa to break into the darkness of desolation and care for the sick and the dying. These are but two examples—one from the beginning, the other from our time—that are representatives of millions who have lived, worked and died as witnesses to Christ, all animated by the same energy.

The source of the hope that has pervaded the Christian community throughout its history has been the word and the energy; two components—one divine gift.

Still, one question remains: where can we find the gift of hope today?

The story of Elijah the prophet may give us the clue as to where to look.

Elijah was pursued by Jezebel and was running for his life. As he collapsed in the wilderness, he prayed. “And he asked that he might die, saying ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life’” (1 Kgs 19:4)—a man of despair. Then he heard the word, and energy was given him: “Arise and eat.” So he did, and he journeyed to Mount Horeb, where God promised to meet him. Elijah arrived and waited. But God was not in the strong wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire. “And after the fire there was the sound of sheer silence.” And God was in the silence. There Elijah, in possession of the word, infused by energy, a man of hope, was ready to be sent on a new mission.

Where can we find the source of hope, so that we may live fully?

Not in the strong wind that the turmoil of the world brings, not in the earthquake of power plays, not in the fire that burns and consumes, but in the sound of sheer silence—so the Scriptures say.

We find the source of hope not in the persons and elements that surround us but inside—in the sheer silence of the mind and heart, where the memory of the word lingers and where the divine energy presses for action. No other authentic source of hope exists under the heavens or above the earth.

Once we have found the authentic source, we can make the necessary corrections in our itinerary. All pilgrims must do that. We can make our expectation fit the word, and not otherwise. We can let the beauty and clarity of divine energy prevail against the power play of selfishness and ambition. Then we put our hope where it ought to be: in God.

If that happens, the incredible becomes believable and the impossible becomes feasible: whatever we ask for will be given to us (Mark 11:24), and whenever we tell the mountain to go into the sea, it will go (Mark 11:23). While we are waiting for such unheard-of power, let us listen to the sound of sheer silence and respond: Lord, I hope, help me with my budding hope.

Ladislas Orsy, S.J., is a professor at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C.

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