In the years between its incorporation as a town and its incorporation as a city, a devastating fire ripped through Detroit in 1805, destroying almost every one of its structures. It was demoralizing for the several hundred residents who called this town home.
While some looked to relocate into Canada or into other areas of the still young United States, Father Gabriel Richard worked with other leaders in Detroit to restore the city. He coined the phrase that became the motto of city of Detroit: Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus. Translated, it means, “We hope for better things; we shall rise from the ashes.”
The helpless feeling Father Richard had as he watched his city burn is not unlike what we can feel now seeing the challenges all around us. We see political tensions increase and Christian norms being set aside. We see unprecedented challenges facing families and the struggles of large numbers of young people to follow Jesus. And then we see the challenges within our Church, not least of which is the terrible sin of sexual abuse.
In spite of it all, I cannot help but think of Father Richard’s motto for a time such as this: “We hope for better things; we shall rise from the ashes.” This motto has a double meaning. He was hoping for the restoration of the city of Detroit. But there is a deeper and more abiding hope that calls us.
Hope is one of the three theological virtues — along with faith and love — that are infused into our souls when we are baptized. (Cf. CCC, 1266)
Whether this happened as an infant or later in our lives, a baptized individual is marked with hope. Having hope means that “we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness.” (CCC, 1817) Therefore, hope is directed to the fulfillment of the greatest desire of the human heart: to spend eternity with the One who is infinite love.
This virtue is infused in us at baptism, but it must be cultivated and stirred up. We are reminded of Paul’s admonition to not let the gifts we have been given die out: “Stir into flame the gift of God you have received through the imposition of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1:6)
What has been given to Timothy is a free gift. But the gift has been entrusted to him not to be tucked away and buried. Rather, it is to be strengthened. Like our muscles, hope that is not exercised will grow weaker and weaker until it becomes almost invisible.
Our Heavenly Father freely gives us the gift, but He wants us to cooperate with this gift. He desires that we “share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rm. 8:21)
It is important that we do not confuse hope with mere optimism. While optimism can be a great help in dealing with the difficulties and disappointments of life, hope is categorically different from it.
Jesus Christ is “at work to renew his Church in the Archdiocese of Detroit.” (Unleash the Gospel, Introduction) We are in the midst of a great renewal. Jesus is doing something new in our Church; he is working to restore our hope. This is exciting … and can be a little bit scary. The work of renewal, however, is not something for only a few of us. We each have a role to play.
Here are some practical tips to grow in hope, to live hope and to be missionaries of hope!
Grow in hope
The best way to grow in hope is to stir up your desire for the fulfillment of God’s promises. We can do this by praying daily against discouragement and despair.
A short traditional Catholic prayer called the Act of Hope can be prayed daily. It goes like this: “O my God, relying on your infinite mercy and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of your grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer. Amen.”
We can also grow in hope by reading about the saints, especially the martyrs. Seeing how they were able to persevere in the midst of challenges — almost always greater than ours — stirs in us our desire for the great promises of heaven!
Live in hope
The best way to live the virtue of hope is to think often of heaven. Memorize a Scripture quotation, and go back to it often throughout the day to draw your mind back to God. For me, there is a quote from the Liturgy of the Hours that I love: “What better can we do than take refuge in the Lord! His love will never fail. Alleluia.”
Make a small act of sacrifice each day. This should be a reminder that the joy of heaven is infinitely greater than the joys of this world.
Be a missionary of hope
We are called to be missionary disciples, but how do we share hope?
St. Peter tells us, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.” (1 Pt. 3:15-16a) Jesus is the only one who will never disappoint us. Think of a circumstance in your life when you knew Jesus was present. Share that with someone in your life.
Another way to share hope with others is to volunteer to serve the dying. Catholic hospice centers are always looking for people to spend time with those who are close to death. This ministry is a great testament to our hope in eternal life.
Optimism is part of one’s disposition. It helps us find what is positive in a given set of circumstances. Hope, on the other hand, is rooted in our relationship with God. It calls to mind what He has done (in the past) and thus enables us to be confident in what He will do (in the future). In this way, it is closely related to faith. I know that God will keep His promises because I know what He has already given me: “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” (Rm. 8:32)
Men and women of hope keep their eyes on the prize. Like a heavyweight boxer who knows that every jumping jack has a purpose or the research scientist who knows that her work is part of a larger effort to cure Alzheimer’s disease, every part of our lives should be oriented to our final goal.
To do this, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. Guidepost 2 of Unleash the Gospel reminds us of this necessity. It is easy to get distracted and go off course. But keeping in mind our final goal — and that Jesus calls us to bring others along with us — keeps us on course. As a band of missionary disciples, we must keep our eyes fixed on Jesus if we want to share Him. We cannot share what we do not have.