Emily Dickinson once wrote in a poem that “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops… at all…”
Hope never stops. Hope keeps singing. Hope sings a tune without words. But what is hope hoping for? If there were words, what would hope be saying? “I hope I can get out of this mess I’ve made? I hope I win the lottery someday. I hope she likes me too.”
Is hoping the same thing as wishing, or is it bigger, wider, deeper?
Meanwhile, there’s still a pandemic out there. I just hope we get out of it soon. After a year of lockdowns, rules, and regulations, while being socially distanced from human faces everywhere you go, you might be feeling that hope, this “thing with feathers”, has been plucked. Or more so, it’s just too exotic a bird to even afford anymore.
Has there been a time in recent memory when we’ve felt such global desperation, frustration, fear, and isolation since the explosion of COVID-19 on the scene? We’ve all in some way been stretched, taxed, tired out, and told “not yet,” and it is absolutely affecting our hope.
The CDC website reports, “Overall, 40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic (26.3%), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%).”
Our addictions to pornography fall in this last statistic.
Porn addictions have sky-rocketed as well, especially for so many of the young who have been isolated from their classmates and school structures for over a year! When hope is shattered, the escape of porn always appears as a way out—a way to alleviate the sadness and the isolation. It feigns connection and comfort, but in all truth, it only isolates and enslaves further.
The list of reasons not to hope could go on and on. But then comes the memory that we’ve been here before. If you’re a believer and have heard even a little bit of the biblical narrative, then you’ve heard about some seemingly hopeless situations. The one-year anniversary of the Covid lockdown pales in comparison when one considers a 400-year enslavement to Egypt’s power (imagine having to wear masks for 400 years!).
How about a 40-year ramble through a desert with no permanent or as yet perceived address? Stuck in a smelly boat with carnivorous animals for an undetermined amount of days with no visible land in sight? Or being tossed into a cistern in the desert by your own brothers and then sold into slavery in a foreign land?
Best (well, worst) of all, consider that seemingly hopeless situation when a band of brothers and sisters had a lockdown of their own, in an upper room in Jerusalem. Their hope and the hope of thousands of fellow believers (actually the entire human race) had literally been arrested, beaten, crushed, and killed, right before their eyes at the ripe old age of 33. A viral hate scared them into isolation and the putting on of masks of a different sort. Yes, believers have heard of hopeless situations before.
He is risen!
But “hope springs eternal,” as the poet Alexander Pope wrote. What’s curious is the incredible change that happens when hope is reborn in the human heart. “He is risen!”, cries Mary Magdalen. And the electric current of that cathartic moment zaps them into action. Hope becomes palpable, substantive, real. When the Person of Jesus returns, the women and men run. Literally. They run from the empty tomb. They run back to the empty tomb. They burst out of the upper room, delirious with an infectious (and seemingly intoxicated) joyful hope.
The reason for our hope is Him. It’s not wishful thinking. It’s not “positive energy.” Hope is the entrustment of our hearts to Incarnate Love, resurrected flesh, and blood and eyes and warm hands saying insanely beautiful things that are “good beyond hope,” to repurpose a phrase from C.S. Lewis. Hope is more than “a thing with feathers”—it is a person with fingers curling in an invitation to us who thought it was game over.
He stepped into the reeling roller coaster ride of our emotions, frustrations, and enslaved desperation. He offered, and still offers now, our trembling hearts something solid to hold on to: Him! He grounds us, gets us back to the original roots of this relationship with the Divine that we humans were designed for. Trust me, he says, now in your fear just as much as you did in the time of wonder and miracles.
He is the reason for our hope.
Hope can’t be grounded in passing things. Hope can’t be the desire to simply relocate from a sad place to a happy place. It’s more than the wish in the face of a pandemic to stay safe, avoid getting hurt, or ultimately that we not die? To quote from the immortal William Wallace in the movie Braveheart, “Every man dies. Not every man really lives.”
A withered fruit from the pandemic, I believe, has been this unhealthy fear of death. Truly, life is a gift to be treasured but not to be morbidly hoarded over to the exclusion of the essential need for human touch, community, and sensitivity. How we move the two streams of self-care and caring for others together is a work we’re still trying to perfect I think. But the hope-filled believer cries out “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
Jesus’s beginning in that desert in the readings for the first Sunday of Lent contained the seed for this final hope of Easter. The mission was to restore us to ourselves and back up into the Great Dance of the Trinity! Hope reveals there is more to life than this life! He came to restore His likeness within us. This roller coaster ride of our earthly existence penetrated and permeated by His resurrected hope was intended to stir us up, shake us up, recalibrate, and refresh us.
"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to him." - Mark 1:12-15
This reading from the First Sunday of Lent, over 40 days ago, has the Son of Man set above the beasts and below the angels. This is where we all fit in! This is our place in the Great Hierarchy of Being. We were meant to occupy the holy space between the animals and the angels! To take up the whole physical creation (including ourselves) into the act of praise and adoration!
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent… believe in the gospel” (Mark 1). Jesus calls us to repent, in the Greek, literally, "change one's mind or purpose.” Metanoia is a turnaround. It gets us back on track. This was what Lent was meant to do—to open hope within us.
He is the key.
He came to restore His likeness within us. And now in the light of this Resurrection, the real joyride begins. So buckle up. Grace has been given to us now through the power of His resurrection. Hope indeed springs eternal! The redeemed life is an adventure, a roller coaster ride of twists and turns, laughter, and tears. And He is right here in it with us!
He’s tasted it all and tells us: be not afraid! Come, follow me!
Homily Helper by Bill Donaghy
With the help of this Homily Sample written by Bill Donaghy, senior lecturer and content specialist for the Theology of the Body Institute, you can share with your parishioners on Easter Sunday and all Easter long that Christ’s life was a roller coaster of experiences synthesized in the mysteries of the rosary— joyful, luminous, sorrowful, glorious! The faithful disciple has to be ready for the adventure too. All that happened to Jesus must and will happen to us. Will we go the distance, from the Cross to the Crown?