It is hard to exaggerate the importance of hope. Hope means the promise of tomorrow. Hope means solutions for present problems. Hope means that things can always be mended. Hope means the end of this pandemic.
When people lose hope, then the demons take over and it is not pretty.
In the Divine Comedy, Dante’s epic poem of the journey through the life to come, Dante stands before the gates of hell. The screaming and the crying and the moans are frightening enough, but what is posted over the gate of hell makes one’s blood run cold: “Abandon Hope All You Who Enter Here.”
There is no way out. No hope, only despair. Dante has certainly nailed it: without hope there is no life, only unending death.
Luckily for us, we have been given the great expectation of the Resurrection. Even death does not have the final word! “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55). There is always a ‘Chapter Two’ following the climax of our first Chapter. The story continues!
As Spring begins to bloom and the breezes turn warm, there is hope that the dark days of this pandemic may be coming to an end.
This past year has been tough. If you remember last April, the eyes of the nation and the world were on us in New York City. Death roamed the streets. Hospitals were not big enough. Tents went up to try to catch the overflow. Trucks were brought in to keep the dead bodies cold because mortuaries were overloaded. The Javits Center was one big hospital. I will never forget the ongoing sirens of the ambulances. Day and night.
More than once I woke up in the middle of the night frightened that if I had shortness of breath, I may not be able to find a hospital that could take me. What a strange fear in a city that has a great quantity of the best hospitals in the world! But it was an honest, realistic terror.
Parishioners cried on the phone telling me that they had to say goodbye to their loved ones at the door of the hospital, not knowing that they would ever see them alive. The hospitals were even closed to priests. Every priest I knew was so angry and sad that they had been also excluded. Why were the spiritual needs of people considered non-essential? The prejudice against religion was all too obvious. Luckily, we had a wonderful Catholic Chaplain in Mount Sinai of Queens. He heroically was present for long hours ministering to the Catholics and non-Catholics at the hospital. But we would love to have had the clearance to visit the members of our Parish, those we knew so well. Recently, I went to see someone in a hospital in the City. It was the first time I had entered a hospital as a ministering priest in months.
But it was all part of the long darkness that Covid-19 produced throughout this past year. When I went out to the supermarket to get something for our house, the streets were empty and barren and eerily quiet. There was a kind of ‘smell of death’ in the air. I had a sense that we were in for a long and difficult time of it. Many of the people I knew and loved would be taken by this terrible virus.
But while these feelings were very valid, I still felt a glimmer of hope. Heroic love was evident in the medical personnel, essential workers, and chaplains. Brilliant scientific minds were trying to decode and defeat this invader. And the Church endured and learned new ways of ministering. Catholic Churches throughout our city never really closed. Yes, the doors were shut and locked, but faith knows no boundary; the Grace of God penetrates through every barrier, even through our cameras into your computers, TVs, and phones! We Zoomed our meetings and we continued to minister to the dying in their homes.
Now, as hope begins to blossom, new life is coming to the Church and to our faith; a life tried and tempered by adversity; a life filled with hope and promise.
With God, the story is never over. When evil seems to triumph and the good seems defeated, an Easter breeze reminds us of the power of God and the fact that it is not over until God wins.
It certainly makes me feel confident that the ways of God are where I want to be. For in Him is our lasting hope.
They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.” – Mark 10:26-27