I suppose it is a deep seated wish that when we choose a life's path -- or we sense that we are called or invited to do so -- we hope that it is a good choice. We look at the road ahead and hope it is one that leads to a meaningful and joyful life, most, if not all, of the time.
Variations of this wishful hoping litter the landscapes of daily life. I remember walking around the bingo halls of the parishes where I served. Many of the tables were adorned with good luck charms -- little statuettes of fat Buddahs, rabbit's feet of different colors, holy cards, trinkets and charms, dashboard statues of Mary and Jesus. Some people always asked me to bless their boards.
There were always winners and losers. Most everyone always came back week after week.
I thought it amusing that when the casino gambling was first proposed in the New Jersey legislature, the Catholic Bishops of the state protested, claiming that legalized gambling would pave the way for sin, vice, corruption. They did not apparently see the connection between their income, the bingo winners and losers, and sin, vice and corruption.
Anyway, everyone waits for their ship to come in. We all are waiting for, hoping for the prize. Basically, it boils down a deal. A kind of negotiation. If we do our part, God will do His. Like in this gospel, He will reward us with more than we hoped or bargained for. We live our lives keeping an eye on the prize.
But there comes a time when all bets are off. It is a time, or a place, somewhere beyond the land of winners and losers. It is when we are aware that our human life is a sinking ship, and we will lose everything upon which we placed our hope.
Then we realize that such has been the way it has always been. Nothing we have, or can buy, or can own can carry us through to the Promised Land. Our fate is to go down with the ship and our rabbit's foot.
The same fate awaited Jesus. There came a time when even He cried out to the God He claimed abandoned Him. Out of that terrible place, God crept into life. God arrived, hidden everywhere, but alive through the life giving presence of faith, hope and charity. These are the writings of God on every human heart.
God is our only hope. But our ships have to go down before we can rise and live in the source of our hopes.
Hope is persistent. It is impossible to shake. It may take us a long time to become aware of who hope is and what it means. Our hopes are too often given to a spin of the wheel, the call of that winning number, the lavish winnings of a royal flush.
A friend of mine spent years pondering God and hope. He had gone to places far from his native Ireland and saw horrors that convinced him that God did not exist and that hope was a baseless and futile whim. He was writing about it. He went on and on, detailing for me the various points he was going to make in his book.
When he finished, I asked him if he harbored any aspirations for such a dark and grim book. He paused and looked at me. "Well, I hope it is published and I hope it sells well."
Hope flickers even in those who deny its existence. It lives in us, even as we speak from it to deny its existence. Hope always has the last word, even when we use our lips to deny it.
Father James Stephen (Jeff) Behrens, O.C.S.O., serves at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212 S.W., Conyers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.