by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
The theme of last year’s pastoral visit to the United States by Pope Benedict XVI was: “Make all things new in Christ, our hope.” Pope Benedict’s second encyclical letter was entitled “Spe Salvi – On Christian Hope.”
Pope Benedict, in reflecting on hope, observes that one of the errors of modernity was a belief in creating a perfect world. He notes that, for some, this misplaced hope in a perfect world results in replacing the biblical hope in the kingdom of God with a hope in the kingdom of man.
In part because of many scientific advances and our increased mastery over certain elements of nature, a conviction emerged that it was possible to fashion political and economic structures in such a way as to create an enduring heaven on earth. Pope Benedict points out that one of the errors of this false hope is that the social order is simply the result of dispassionate scientific calculations, while ignoring the importance of the ethical and moral choices made by the individuals.
It is not possible for one generation to hand on a perfect, enduring world to the next generation because the free choices of those in the next generation are the most important element in determining the state of the future. Certainly, the choices that we make today will either limit or expand the opportunities for the next generation, but they will not predetermine their destiny. The truth of our freedom — to choose the good and the noble or the bad and the degrading — means that each person and each generation must make moral choices that have real consequences.
In addressing our current economic challenges, some seem to believe that if only those in national leadership make the right decisions all of our current problems will disappear. Certainly, economic policy decisions of President Obama and the Congress will have a significant impact on the economic opportunities available to us, but each of us also has the power to make choices that affect not only our well-being but the well-being of our community.
Since my arrival in northeast Kansas almost five years ago, I have been impressed by the entrepreneurial spirit of the people of our region. I have been edified by a “can do” attitude within the church and community. For example, I find it refreshing that the people of our parish communities generally do not look for the Archdiocese or someone else to solve their problems, but have the confidence and determination to develop their own solutions.
At the same time, I have found the people of the Archdiocese extraordinarily generous in trying to assist those who are disadvantaged or suffering. Catholic Charities’ annual Snow Ball is just one example of the amazing traditions within the Archdiocese to help those who are suffering and struggling. The success of this year’s Snow Ball in the midst of our current economic problems was truly remarkable.
This year’s theme for our annual Call to Share campaign is hope. Call to Share is the most important single effort each year to pool our resources as the Catholics of northeast Kansas in order to bring the love and hope of Jesus to many who are suffering or struggling.
Our hope as Christians is not in economic or political structures or even scientific advancements, important as these may be. Our hope is in a God who loves us so much that he chose to immerse himself fully into our human condition.
It is the hope, expressed by St. Paul, in the unconditional love of Jesus that anguish, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and the sword do not have the power to separate us from Jesus (Rom 8: 35). It is a hope that includes the wisdom of the parable of the talents (Mt 25: 14-30), making clear that the Lord expects us to develop, grow and use prudently the gifts that he has entrusted to us.
It is a hope that Jesus himself described when he told his disciples: “Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat [or drink], or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they? . . . So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Mt 6: 25-27; 31-33).
It is a hope in the infinite love of God that liberates us from being paralyzed by fear and worry as well as energizes us to make moral choices in using whatever gifts God has entrusted to us to glorify him and to help others.
The following is an excerpt from the prayer that I offered at this year’s Snow Ball: “Give us the joy for making an investment that no market fluctuation can threaten, no adjusted valuation can alter, no economic cycle can diminish. While many economic indicators are trending down, our gathering tonight signals the compassion indicators are surging up. While many fear to invest in the stock market, our Snowballers are bullish on investing in the human market. While many have become skeptical of bailouts, those gathered here tonight are eager to offer others a hand-up. While others may spend their energy cursing the darkness, we gather tonight to light lamps of hope.”
I am confident that your generosity to this year’s Call to Share will help us light the lamps of authentic hope again this year.