Fr. Paul MacNeil
December 4th, Hope in God
Hope and repentance
I want to begin my homily with a story about a man, Bill Wilson, who was well-known as a somewhat “difficult” person.“ He even admitted this to himself in several letters. He was also one of the partners with Robert Scott, famous for being the first person to reach the south pole. Sadly, he and his companions died on their return trip, but not before Scott had a chance to pen a moving tribute to his friend Bill: “If this letter reaches you, Bill and I have gone together. We are very near it now, and I should like you to know how splendid Bill was… everlastingly cheerful and ready to sacrifice himself for the others. His eyes have a comfortable blue look of hope, and his mind is peaceful.”
Somehow, under the direst circumstances, Bill was able to change. I think this gives us tremendous hope. We read in the book of Isaiah of hope of a saviour, described beautifully: “The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and fear of the lord… Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist and faithfulness the belt around his loins.” John the Baptist then appeared from the wilderness, and his message, which no doubt Bill Wilson heard from his heart, is to change, become better, and turn away from sin.
I want to suggest that there are three kinds of hope, all of them are valid, but some are deeper than others.
The first kind of hope is self-centred hope. This kind of hope calls for change, but the focus is on the self. The outcome is outer strength, but the risk is misery. This kind of hope can remain unfulfilled, resulting in misery, despair, and “why me.” Allow me to illustrate. A few years ago, I visited a small town in the mountains of Colorado, well known for its new-age focus. When I got there, everyone was obviously into hiking, health, healing, wellness, and yoga (I have nothing against any of these things, by the way). But what I also noticed was that everyone looked miserable. They were very focused on themselves - look at me, look how healthy I am, I’m living the dream! If that’s all we can hope for, I have some exciting news to share, which will probably become evident to you as life goes on. I love the pictures of “healthy people” used to advertise their craft, who also happen to be 20-something models. Give it a few years. This kind of hope is too shallow for me.
The second kind of hope is Prophetic hope. The call here is for resilience in the face of disaster. The focus is community, and the outcome is not outer strength but inner strength. The risk here is despair. The example here is the experience of Robert Scott and his companions, especially Bill Wilson. Even through that horrifying experience, they were able to appreciate each other. We read about this often in the face of real disaster - how communities come together to help each other. I once heard that resilience isn’t about inner strength but about the resources one has around you. Inner strength isn’t the starting point, which leads to a community feeling. The community feeling is the starting point which leads to inner strength.
Finally, the third kind of hope is Christian Hope. The call is for repentance; the focus is on the goodness of God, the divine mystery. The outcome is peace, inner and outer, but the risk is total surrender. Of course, Bill Wilson mentioned above serves as a beautiful example. Once, he had no hope, but even through the trials of a mortal expedition, perhaps even facing his own death, he found in his heart a reason to change.
This last kind of hope is the hope that we are waiting for in our world and which came forth in Bethlehem as not only the lamb of God but a little child. Invite that child into your life, and you will experience a hope that the world cannot give. In the words of Bill Wilson himself, in his last letter found at the spot where he perished:
“So I live now, knowing that I am in God’s hands to be used to bring others to him if he will a long life… or to die tomorrow. We must do what we can and leave the rest to him. My trust is in God.