We are already more than a week into the new year. As we planned for this significant year of 2020, we have made resolutions to improve ourselves as we journey through it. We know from experience that many of those resolutions will not come to pass. What is important for the new year is not so much the resolutions but our vision for the year based on our faith. The virtue of hope is an essential part in facing the new year as we encounter the many joys, difficulties, challenges, uncertainties, disappointments and all that will come to us in 2020.
Pope Francis has given us a message on the first day of the new year for the occasion of the World Day for Peace. St. Pope Paul VI first dedicated Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, to world peace in 1967. Every year since then we have received a message from the Pope on this occasion. Pope Francis’ message this year is entitled, “Peace as a Journey of Hope.” His message develops into five points. He addresses nuclear issues in the first two points calling on Christians to reject systems of security built on fear of others. In this regard he refers to his recent trip to Japan where he visited the nuclear bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His third point deals with global economic injustice and his fourth with the ecological crisis we face today. The pope’s fifth point deals with the need for hope and the need to build a culture of “fraternal encounter.”
As Pope Francis culminates his message on hope, it is a good one for us to reflect upon as we begin the new year. He states that, “Hope is thus the virtue that inspires us and keeps us moving forward, even when obstacles seem insurmountable.” Quoting St. John of the Cross, the Pope stresses that “We obtain all that we hope for.” Pope Francis expounds that “We can find inspiration in the love that God has for each of us: a love that is liberating, limitless, gratuitous and tireless.” He expresses how fear is frequently a source of conflict and it is important for us to overcome our fears by acknowledging our dependence upon God who loves us and calls us to himself. As we begin the new year, it is good to begin with this journey of hope.
The world, indeed, has much suffering and unhappiness within it. It seems that our present time is one that is so much lacking in hope as has never been experienced before. This lack of hope is causing a great deal of frustration, anger and resentment which is readily expressed around the world. It is only hope that will sustain the world and each one of us in this time of distress and difficulty as well as in our own personal lives. Hope does not simply urge us to keep going as things will get better. Hope looks beyond the present difficulties of this life to the promise of eternal life in God’s loving presence. Hope is the conviction that life is worth living, even in suffering and pain, because God loves us and leads us to himself and ultimately to his eternal life with him.
The words of the prophet Isaiah regarding hope, which we just heard during the season of Advent, are extremely significant for us facing a new year. The prophet proclaims, “They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength. … They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint” (Is 40:31). Truly, it is the Lord that gives us the strength to keep going in the face of overwhelming obstacles and misunderstandings. Isaiah makes clear that God gives strength to those who hope and trust in him. Those who do not place their trust in God will falter no matter how much vigor they may possess. As he says, “Though young men faint and grow weary and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, … They will soar as with eagle wings” (Is 40:30, 31). Pope Francis is an excellent example of one who hopes in the Lord and does not grow weary despite the limitations of his age and the burdens that he faces in his office. He travels the world with the message of hope and does not grow weary nor grow faint.
It is obvious that our country, world and society are growing weary. Indeed, weariness has already undertaken them in so many different ways. For all the emphasis today on youth and vigor, there is much staggering and falling. There is a lack of hope which prevents progress as well as a vision that brings people together as made in the image and likeness of God. Our own nation uses the words “One nation under God” in its Pledge of Allegiance and the words “In God we Trust” on its currency and in its courtrooms. How many times we are far from this reality, especially when consideration for removing these words is present.
When John F. Kennedy accepted the nomination for his presidency in 1960, he announced a vision of a new frontier for our nation. He followed through on this vision in so many ways including sending an American to walk on the moon for which we just celebrated the 50th anniversary. Kennedy indeed was youthful and energetic and inspired great hope for the future. However, in the plans he placed before the nation he quoted the words of hope of Isaiah 40:31 and concluded his remarks by saying, “As we face the coming challenge, we too shall wait upon the Lord and ask that he renew our strength. Then shall we be equal to the test. Then we shall not be weary. Then we shall prevail.” It is disappointing that the era of the 1960s and those since it have lost the vision of hope in the Lord which has resulted in so many of our world’s difficulties.
As we begin this new year, let us renew our hope in the Lord as Pope Francis exhorts us and the entire world. It is only this hope that will lead to a journey of peace within our world and within our lives. God is with us and we truly can move forward, not relying upon our own strength, but relying upon his. May hope inspire us and keep us moving forward even when obstacles seem insurmountable.
A blessed and hope filled New Year to all.