The Challenge of Hope
At this time of year, many students and their families are very anxious about the future, securing the course of their choice at Third Level and making arrangements for accommodation. At the more general level, we have the uncertainty which is brought about by Covid-19, the fear about employment and the economic situation. All of us feel vulnerable, fragile, wonder, and worry about what the future has in store. The capacity for hope is very much at issue in our society today. Hopelessness is prevalent and powerful in so many areas. We have experienced a loss of the structured reliable world that gave meaning and coherence and we find ourselves in a context where the most treasured and trusted symbols of faith and hope are disregarded and trivialized. In such a situation we need reasons for hope if we are to go forward and face the future rather than resort to a form of nostalgia. Without hope, we could so easily succumb to a form of self-preoccupation which will not yield either energy, courage, or freedom.
A great danger facing society today is the sense of powerlessness, the idea that the world is spinning out of control, that problems are too great to solve. Yet the God in whom we believe is a God who enables us to express hope just when hopelessness seems to have the upper hand. Not surprisingly, God does this through someone with whom we are familiar and with whom we can identify, namely, his Mother. Pope Francis in a Reflection on Mothers stated “especially in times of need, when we are entangled in life’s knots, we rightly lift our eyes to Our Lady, our Mother. When she gazes upon us, she does not see sinners but children. It is said that the eyes are the mirror of the soul; the eyes of Mary, full of grace, reflect the beauty of God, they show us a reflection of heaven. The eyes of Our Lady are able to bring light to every dark corner; everywhere they rekindle hope”.
The Feast of the Assumption points to hope and a new possibility. In the preface of today’s Mass, we speak of Mary as “a sign of sure hope and comfort to your pilgrim people”. This feast expands our imagination from what ‘is’ to what ‘is possible’ if we are a people of hope. Mary is linked to us in the hopes, sufferings, separations, and successes we encounter. She urges us not to abandon our ideals, as we struggle for consolation, meaning, and hope.
In life, we encounter difficulties of various kinds, sufferings, and trials. It may be a difficult relationship, financial burdens, emotional pain, a grave temptation, or sickness. At times we are burdened and overwhelmed by the problems of the present moment and lose all sense of perspective, of the fact that we are on a journey. Hope is an antidote to this mentality. Hope is closely related to patience which enables us to put the present in perspective. It is very easy to become dismayed by the suffering in our world, the imperfection in our Church, by our own struggles and crises.
The Feast of the Assumption speaks to us very eloquently about hope. This feast is a lasting source and sign of hope, a promise of future glory for the whole Church of which Mary is the supreme example. All of us who are followers of Jesus and companions of Mary on our faith journey share her destiny. The glimpse of future glory which we get on this feast should inspire within us a profound attitude of comfort and hope. Whatever our personal struggle might be – serious illness, the death of a dear one, a difficult human relationship, financial concerns, worry about the future – Mary is with us, understanding, supporting, loving. The assumption allows the light that is Jesus Christ to shine into the dark areas of our lives. After our experience of a dangerous pandemic, lockdown, and the economic situation, many people seem demoralized.
Hope is not false optimism. It does not under-estimate the challenges we face or ignore the setbacks we experience. Hope enables us to adopt an honest and critical analysis of where we find ourselves today. Hope commits us to pursue the truth and does not leave us enslaved by our own failures or the decadence of society. Hope reminds us that the future is open and there will be further developments that look forward to new opportunities. This feast of the Assumption of Our Lady is a reminder therefore of the significance of hope as we cope with the challenges confronting us today.
- Archbishop Michael Neary is Archbishop of the Diocese of Tuam, Ireland. This homily was preached in the Basilica of Our Lady at Knock Shrine for the Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady, 15 August 2020.