Thinking Anew – The nature and promise of hope

Right now, in the UK Theresa May is trying to outdo Jeremy Corbyn in the promises she is making to the electorate and stay in power.

It’s the nature of politics to woo voters and offer them new horizons, promising the sun moon and stars. “New politics” claims it’s different but when it comes down to winning seats in a parliament, political parties always offer hope. There are times when that hope can be realised but, often, political parties offer a hope that is not and never can be fully realised.

It goes with the territory of being young to be idealistic. All of us have hope for the future but young people especially have an all-conquering ability to hope. In the first reading tomorrow (Isaiah 25: 6 9) from the Prophet Isaiah, who was born in about 765 BC/BCE the prophet tells us that, “The Lord will wipe away the tears from every cheek; he will take away his people’s shame everywhere on earth, for the Lord has said so.” And elsewhere in that reading we are told that “the Lord is the one in whom we hoped.”

Placing our hope in the Lord – is that wishful thinking or is the Lord the only “person” in whom all hope resides? One of those imponderable questions. Yet people of faith accept that in God our salvation is found.

October 3rd was a public holiday in Germany. It’s the day the country celebrates German unification. This year the country’s president Frank-Walter Steinmeier in an address in Mainz spoke of how since the fall of the Berlin Wall less visible “walls” now divide the country. He said that September’s election had exposed walls “without barbed wire and death-strips but walls that stand in the way of our common sense of ‘us’ ”.

When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down 28 years ago followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union the world for a short while genuinely believed that we were heading for halcyon times. At least I did.

Borders were thrown open; indeed, it was the cutting down of the barbed wire border between Austria and Hungary that in many ways symbolised the beginning of the end of the division of Europe. That broken border ultimately meant the collapse of the Cold War. The miserable cynic, the most stubborn pessimist had to be excited, had to have hope for the future. We were certainly heading for new and positive times.

Twenty-eight years later it all seems like a dream gone bad.

And 24 years before the Berlin Wall fell, the Second Vatican Council concluded. In the years that followed the council, Catholics were promised and hoped for an open and living church with love and mercy replacing rules and control.

The post-Vatican Council church was a vibrant place to be a young Christian and a young priest. There was no limit to the possibilities of the journeys that lay ahead.

Slowly but surely that hope was in so many ways extinguished. And the church of today is limping along, influenced by a new breed of “culture warriors” for whom the number of candles on an altar is far more important than a real and imaginative dialogue with people who see no worthwhile purpose in believing or hoping in God.

Pope Francis is trying his best to get back to the spirit of the Vatican Council but he is encountering powerful opposition.

It’s part of the human psyche to live in hope, to believe that better times are ahead. Alas, even when it does happen, it all seems ephemeral and certainly never lasts too long.

In tomorrow’s reading Isaiah tells us: “See this is our God in whom we hoped for salvation; the Lord is the one in whom we hoped.”

It seems putting all our hope or too much hope in any human organisation eventually is doomed to failure.

On this the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses, it’s worth quoting the man: “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that one could stake one’s life on it a thousand times.”

That certainly is assuring and gives one purpose, confidence too to hope in God.