Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Memphis Conference - Hope notes

My daughter and I had a very nice weekend in Memphis where I spoke at the Blessed Sacrament Homeschool Conference. Wow, the people of Memphis (well, aside, perhaps, from a few of the airport workers we encountered on our way back) are incredibly gracious and friendly and I enjoyed meeting many lovely families (and a whole truckload of babies!) at the conference. It was really wonderful, by the way, to have a 24 hour adoration chapel just across the hall from the conference (and a lot of people back home praying for me)!!!

I promised that I would start putting my talk notes up on the blog as soon as possible, so here are the notes from the Hope talk. Some of this is verbatim and some isn't. I read some parts and winged others.

Christian Fearlessness: Putting in an Attitude of Hope

"We know that all things work for good for those who love God." (Romans 8:28)

The world is a scary place sometimes - evil is frequently present to us - especially in this information age - and this time of year, especially February and March (especially in Wisconsin!) can be particularly tough. This is definitely something I struggle with personally and I've found that putting together and studying (and praying about!) these things has been extremely helpful to me.

We will never have a perfect life in this world, as much as we are tempted to wish for perfect safety and happiness on this earth - especially for our children. Instead, we have to trust. And we DO trust. We value the goodness of this world enough to bring children - perhaps many children - into a world fraught with risk and danger.

Cardinal Ratzinger in Salt of the Earth:

“To have Christian hope means to know about evil and yet to go to meet the future with confidence. The core of faith rests upon accepting being loved by God, and therefore to believe is to say Yes, not only to him, but to creation, to creatures, above all, to men, to try to see the image of God in each person and thereby to become a lover. That’s not easy, but the basic Yes, the conviction that God has created men, that he stands behind them, that they aren’t simply negative, gives love a reference point that enables it to ground hope on the basis of faith.” (Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth)

God gave us the perfect model of this "Yesness" in our Lady.

Also, in this context First Corinthians 13 – “Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful…” offers a profound sense of how God loves us and consequently how he wants us to love each other.

Q. Does anyone know the context of Jesus’ exhortation to be “perfect as your heavenly father is perfect”?

A. “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Hope offers perspective when we’re overwhelmed, discouraged or finding it hard to trust and leads us to love more – which is the most important thing according to the Greatest Commandment:

You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole mind and all your strength. AND love your neighbor as yourself. (Mark 12:28-34, John 4:5-42)

I believe love is actually our best weapon against relativism because in loving we provide a powerful witness to the truth (e.g. Mother Teresa) and that witness authenticates our belief system.

"Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only 'good news' - the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only 'informative' but 'performative'. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known - it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life." (Pope Benedict, Encyclical on Hope)

I love that idea of Christianity not only giving us knowledge but forcing change upon us. Afterall, knowledge is not the same thing as virtue!

Hope is something you have to CHOOSE!

Fr. Ronald Knox (priest, writer and friend of G.K. Chesterton):

"Hope is something that is demanded of us; it is not, then, a mere reasoned calculation of our chances. Nor is it merely the bubbling up of a sanguine temperament; if it is demanded of us, it lies not in the temperament but in the will... Hoping for what? For deliverance from persecution, for immunity from plague, pestilence and famine...? No, for the grace of persevering in his Christian profession, and for the consequent achievement of a happy immortality. Strictly speaking, then, the highest exercise of hope, supernaturally speaking, is to hope for perseverance and for Heaven when it looks, when it feels, as if you were going to lose both one and the other." (God and the Atom, p. 115)

G.K. Chesterton and Fr. Ronald Knox are both great authors on the topic of hope, as was a lady who converted because of their influence. Her name is Hilda Van Stockum and her children’s stories, including Winged Watchman (my personal favorite) and the Mitchells’ Series (from Bethlehem Books) are great read-alouds because they offer so much for children AND adults and are great manifestations of hope!


Reading history is helpful because it allows other struggles and successes to inspire our own and give some perspective on our own times.

Example: Novatianist heresy (Novatian was the 2nd anti-pope, Rome, 251) - one of the earliest heresies which involved those who thought people who had chickened out on martyrdom shouldn't be allowed back in the Church even if they repented.

We know that life experience tends to develop wisdom. History allows us to tap into the "life experience" of hymanity even as we would listen to and learn from the wisdom of a grandparent or older friend.

Studying history provides perspective in understanding the world today. Those who don't study history might conclude that things used to be great, but that it's all a hopeless mess now. This overly-pessimistic attitude often leads to a sense of complacency rather than a willingness to cooperate in our own small way with God's plan. The truth is that mankind has battled with (and at times lost to) great evil since the Garden of Eden.

History helps us to avoid the mistakes of others, to recognize errors in thiniking that are not-at-all-new and to have real hope that God raises up ordinary men and women in every generation to be saints and heroes who work to counteract evil and help bring God's love to the world.

A few examples of what Hope does for us...


Our Lord says a very striking thing in the Gospel of Matthew. When He is asked who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, He responds, "Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3)

How does this relate to hope? The virtue of hope calls for us to persevere in our tasks with faithfulness, but to entrust the rest to God. He is the one repsonsible for the "big picture" and expects us to cooperate in our own small way, with love and humility.

Littleness also implies a certain patience with ourselves, as St. Francis de Sales said, "Those who aspire to the pure love of God have not so much need of patience with others as with themselves."


Joy is contagious.

G.K. Chesterton: "Joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian!"

Cardinal Ratzinger's words on this are so profound and beautiful, I didn't try to add much else. This is from his book Salt of the Earth...

Something I constantly notice is that unembarrassed joy has become rarer. Joy today is increasingly saddled with moral and ideological burdens, so to speak. When someone rejoices, he is afraid of offending against solidarity with the many people who suffer. I don't have any right to rejoice, people think, in a world where there is so much misery, so much injustice.

I can understand that. There is a moral attitude at work here. But this attitude is nonetheless wrong. The loss of joy does not make the world better - and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer. The contrary is true. The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus and courage to do good. Joy, then, does not break with solidarity. When it is the right kind of joy, when it is not egotistic, when it comes from the perception of the good, then it wants to communicate itself, and it gets passed on. In this connection, it always strikes me that in the poor neighborhoods of, say, South America, one sees many more laughing happy people than among us. Obviously, despite all their misery, they still have the perception of the good to which they cling and in which they can find encouragement and strength.

In this sense we have a new need for that primordial trust which ultimately only faith can give. That the world is basically good, that God is there and is good. That it is good to live and to be a human being. This results, then, in the courage to rejoice, which in turn becomes commitment to making sure that other people, too, can rejoice and receive good news.

Willingness to Suffer

The Gospel is certainly demanding. We know that Christ never permitted His disciples and those who listened to Him to entertain any illusions about this. On the contrary, he spared no effort in preparing them for every type of internal and external difficulty, always aware of the fact that they might well decide to abandon Him. Therefore, if He says, "Be not afraid!" He certainly does not say it in order to nullify in some way that which He has required. Rather, by these words He confirms the entire truth of the Gospel and all the demands it contains. At the same time, however, He reveals that His demands never exceed man's abilities. If man accepts these demands with an attitude of faith, he will also find in the grace that God never fails to give him, the necessary strength to meet those demands." (Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope)

But in truly great trials, where I must make a definitive decision to place the truth before my own welfare, career, and possessions, I need the certitude of that true, great hope of which we have spoken here. For this too we need witnesses - martyrs - who have given themselves totally, so as to show us the way - day after day. We need them if we are to prefer goodness to comfort, even in the little choices we face each day - knowing that this is how we live life to the full. Let us say it once again: the capacity to suffer for the sake of truth is the measure of humanity. Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon. The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope." (Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical on Hope)

Cultivating Hope in Ourselves and in Our Families...

In his encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) the Holy Father says,

Faith, hope and charity go together. Hope is practiced through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God's mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness.


The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifically recommends the Our Father: "Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire." (1819)

I find the Liturgy of the Hours - especially the Night Prayer - to be very consoling and hopeful.

Don't Take Yourself Too Seriously!

It's quite liberating to realize that God doesn't want us to take ourselves too seriously! (Read Chesterton - he's great in this area)

...we are only instruments in the Lord's hands; and this knowledge frees us from the presumption of thinking that we alone are personally responsible for building a better world. In all humility we will do what we can, and in all humility we will entrust the rest to the Lord." (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est)


Clear out your clutter by giving your excess belongings to those in need. When I'm feeling overwhelmed with life, this always brings some immediate relief. Dig deep! It's incredibly freeing to reduce the number of things you own. Some inspiration in this regard:

Matthew 6:28-34:

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, "What shall we eat" or "What shall we drink?" or "What shall we wear?" For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day.

Luke 6:38:

...give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back.

Help others

When we focus too much on ourselves and get carried away with worrying about what other people think of us, perhaps the easiest solution is to turn our gaze outward - to look at those around us and to see their needs.

Stay engaged

I struggle with this one at times. Life is filled with sorrows AND joys. If we try to hide from it, we will miss out on both. Get away from the computer or out of the house when you find yourself falling into escapism. Busy families need unhurried time at the park or the zoo.

We can try to limit suffering, to fight againt it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it, and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love. (Pope Benedict, Encyclical on Hope)

Turn off the news

The news industry is a profitable business built on finding things (mostly bad news) that will keep us watching and reading (and this can be very addictive for some of us!). While we do need to keep informed to a certain extent so that we are able to recognize and fight evil where we are able (and pray where we are not able), we need to shut off or limit the information flow if it has become a source of despair and distraction in our lives.


This can be very soothing - for kids and adults! Bach is my go-to guy, but there are many inspiring, uplifting and soothing choices available.

Rejoice in the Good!

Make a list of things you are grateful for. Oftentimes when our lives are easy and comfortable, we take things for granted, take ourselves too seriously, and start to get overwhelmed by the little things. Deliberate gratitude (accompanied by the cultivation of an atmosphere of appreciation in our homes) can be a powerful antidote!

Fr. Ronald Knox said:

If ever you have felt, in the contemplation of a sunset or any perfect work of nature or art... in the thrill of good news or in the passion of first love, that it was really worthwhile being alive - then that moment was a revelation to you, if you had the heart to understand, of what you owe the Almighty for having created you.

Age Quod Agis

Story about being at the library... one thing at a time.

Age quod agis. (Do what you are doing.) is a helpful reminder to live in the present and concentrate on the task at hand. Embrace the wonder and joy of your children - enter into their "little life." Take the time to share their beautiful interests and delights. Read fairy tales! Take walks. Talk and pray together. Expect some chaos.


Be inspired by great witnesses to hope. Take the time to reflect upon and study the virtue of hope yourself (and related concepts like littleness and trust) through Church teaching on hope (like Pope Benedict's Encyclical on Hope), saint stories and uplifting history, literature and movies.

G.K. Chesterton on the importance of Fairy Tales in particular: "The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides him is a St. George to kill the dragon."

Chesterton, in his book, Heretics, specifically recommends The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. Our family have a number of Lang's Fairy books and have really enjoyed them.)

Pass it On!

Saint Peter shares with us the need to persevere in hope and confidence: "Have no fear... but in your hearts reference Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:14-15). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (quoting Vatican II) asserts: "One is entitled to think that the future of humanity is in the hands of those who are capable of providing the generations to come with reasons for life and optimism." (1917)

We offer this hope to our children, first through the simple gifts of love, patience, and even joy. Perhaps they may not seem like much, but when these are missing, the consequences can be dire indeed. Cardinal Ratzinger, in Seek that Which is Above, tells a story about a generation of young people who grew up during wartime and did not understand hope. He reminds us of this important truth: "The person who has never experienced goodness and kindness simply does not know what such things are." (pgs. 9-10)

One final quote I ended up tacking onto the end (with thanks to my daughter who had this quote with her in her Commonplace Book - I haven't read the Screwtape Letters since High School):

(And for those who aren't familiar with the book, it's a book of "letters" from the devil to one of his underlings.)

He [God] is prepared to do a little over-riding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs - to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in this state of dryness are the ones that please Him best.

We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them for the table, and the mroe their will is interfered with the better. He cannot 'tempt' them to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy's will, looks round on a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys. (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)

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