"Your relentless hopefulness and positivity are no good here," a millennial colleague of mine tweeted a few days before Christmas. It was her reaction to my response to another tweet of hers -- as a potential government shutdown loomed and in the wake of the news of Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis' resignation -- asking folks to name just a few of the things people were buzzing about. "Let me cut right to the chase for you so you can just get off twitter for the evening and save what's left of your sanity: everything is bad," my friend wrote. I played to type and replied to my fellow Catholic: "except the Incarnation and all."
I laughed out loud, as they say, at the excohange. But I also immediately thought of a man who died just after Christmas last year. At the reception after James Joseph Hanson's funeral Mass at St. Anthony's Church in Yulan, New York, J.J.'s wife, Kristen, gave everyone a copy of a book called "Beautiful Hope." Here she was, about to only begin to grieve the death of her husband, having now to care for their two young sons as a single parent, and she was pointing to hope. Because it's real to her.
In one of the chapters of the book, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles quotes Cardinal Francis X. Nguyen Van Thuan, held prisoner by the Communists who took power in Saigon in 1975, spending nine of his 13 captive years in solitary confinement. He insisted that whatever the circumstances, Christians must be "the light in the darkness, the salt where life has no savor, and (the) hope in the midst of a humanity which has lost hope." He had hope even in his imprisonment. "Hope is the theological virtue that enables us to keep our eyes on heaven -- even during those times when our sufferings and trials make our lives here on Earth seem like a living hell."
Gomez is quick to point out that "Christian hope is not some kind of wishful thinking -- far from it! Christian hope is the only certainty in this passing world."
"We can lose our job, we can lose a loved one and we can have our freedom or our good health taken from us. If we have no greater hopes than these, we are bound for a life of disappointments and sadness."
Our hope cannot be in President Donald Trump -- or his defeat. Our hope cannot be in politics to save the day. And so, no one news story, or even an avalanche of them, can rob us of our hope.
Gomez writes: "Our hope in the Resurrection should animate every aspect of our lives."
I mention the Resurrection around Christmas because you really can't consider one without the other. And you cannot despair if you truly believe in Christ's birth, death and return.
In his annual pre-Christmas address to the Roman Curia, Pope Francis talked about hope as well: "In the firm conviction that the light always proves stronger than the darkness, I would like to reflect with you on the light that links Christmas (the Lord's first coming in humility) to the Parousia (his second coming in glory), and confirms us in the hope that does not disappoint. It is the hope on which our individual lives, and the entire history of the Church and the world, depend. Without hope, how unsightly the Church would be!"
Indeed. It's that hope in Jesus Christ that is the point of the Church. It's the point, of course, of Christmas.
One last thing about hope: If you find yourself feeling devoid of it or losing it, do something different. Get off social media, perhaps. Go to a church. Immerse yourself in something beautiful. One easy way might be to get yourself on the mailing list of the Sisters of Life (sistersoflife.org). These women provide tangible hope to the world, helping pregnant women in need. At the time of my Twitter exchange, their latest newsletter (a mini-magazine really) was sitting beside my phone. "A Thrill of Hope," it begins, lifting spirits from the get-go, and yes, my weary soul rejoiced. The Sisters of Life was founded by Cardinal John O'Connor, and in 1989 he said during midnight Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral: There's only one answer to fear. That answer is in Bethlehem. That answer is in a little baby. That answer is in that child about whom the angel sang, 'Don't be afraid. Don't run away. Come.'"
The world needs hope. We can be that hope. But it requires taking Christmas seriously. It requires rejecting despair and serving as an example to others. It doesn't have to be explicit. It could be my young colleague making me laugh. It just has to radiate from our lives. May it be so. Merry Christmas.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at email@example.com