Three Gimme's of Franciscan Spirituality: Certain Hope

Continuing with Fr. Charlie Polifka's talk on the three "Give Me's" of Francis of Assisi as seen through his prayer before the San Damiano crucifix, we move to Certain Hope. If you missed the first article on True Faith you can find it here.

For many of us, hope is often articulated in a temporal sense. We hope for ourselves and our families in this world. If someone young is struck down, we hear: "He/she had such high hopes." Even in my own life I have hopes for my future as a friar, I hope and pray for the well-being of my family, my fellow Novices, and for the people I meet each day.

While there is nothing wrong with these hopes (in fact I think we could use a little more hope in the world!), if they remain solely temporal then it is inevitable that our hopes will become dashed.

I'm reminded of a movie I recently watched called Sin Nombre. It's a movie about a girl and her family that leave Honduras in an attempt to come to the United States. In her attempt to go north, she crosses paths with El Casper, a gang member from Southern Mexico who is marked by his own clicke for breaking away. They cross paths and they accompany each other in hopes of reaching the US.

I won't spoil the movie for you (as I think it something everyone should see), but there is a lot of sadness in the movie. The realization of people hoping for a better life, and the discussion in the movie that: "Half of these people won't make it to to America," left me with a sense of hopelessness for those struggling in poverty.

If hope for things in this life are destined to be dashed, what then is certain hope? Is it completely futile to hope and desire for things in this life, be they as benevolent as safety, security, and good will towards your neighbor if these hopes are fleeting? I don't think that's what Fr. Charlie was getting at. Rather, he used a personal experience to describe his interpretation of certain hope. For this article, I borrowed a story from a fellow Novice. It's a story that may resonate with a personal experience of your own:

Years ago as a hospital chaplain, I remember visiting a very sick woman. She was being eaten alive by cancer, and it was expected that she'd live only a few more days. She had no family (at least none that ever visited) and she was in a great deal of pain.

When I first went into her room, I felt like I was the wrong guy for the job. "This woman needs a priest!" I thought, "not some schmuck with a Bible." But she greeted me, and I introduced myself, and we started talking.

We talked about her life, the church she'd gone to, her battle with cancer, the weather...I thought: "If I keep her talking, maybe she won't feel as bad about dying."

During our talk, a nurse came in with a needle. My experience as a hospital chaplain told me there was no medicine for what was ailing this woman; the nurse could only give her something for the pain. Not only did my time at the hospital tell me this, but I could read it on the expression of the nurse's face.

Very politely, the dying woman says to the nurse before she can even say a word: "Oh no, but thank you, dear. That stuff will put me to sleep. I'm dying, and I want to be awake when the Lord comes for me."

The nurse tried to reason with her, telling her that it would relieve the pain.

"The pain's not so bad," she responded. "And this nice young man and I are talking. Thank you dear, but I'll be all better soon enough."

I could see the nurse trembling slightly, doing her best not to burst into tears. She left the room as those tears formed in the corners of her eyes.

"Poor thing," the woman said to me as the nurse left. With a concern look she said: "Perhaps you should talk to her for a bit."

I was breathless. "Why would I need to see her?" I asked in response. "You're the one who's dying. My job is to be with you during this time."

She smiled at me and gave me a dismissive wave. "Dear, I already know where I'm headed. But that young lady," she said, referring to the nurse, "She needs some hope right now."

Certain hope is more than just our desires or our dreams. It is a reality we choose to accept and incorporate into our lives. As Pope Benedict writes in Spe Salvi: "Eternal, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; life makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it." (12)

Our challenge to live certain hope is to look at the eternal life and accept that as a reality for us as Catholic Christians. Even in the life of Francis, as he prepares to die in the Portiuncula, he recognizes that "Eternal life is." And the sooner we can come to this certain hope here on Earth, how much better followers of Christs could we be!

Certain hope is our preparation for the eternal life, a divesting of self as preparation for a new life with Christ. Again, it can be seen as a form of "death on Earth" as our path leads us to be followers of Christ.

This is the 2nd article in a three part series.
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