Hope in an Age of Despair

When I research various branches and twigs on my family tree, I am frequently impressed with the strength and resilience of my ancestors. I often drive by the farms of western Quebec and Glengarry, Ontario, and think about the hardy Scots who took their axes, picks and saws and turned thousands of acres of bush into productive farm land. They left everything they knew behind, never to see again, and set off for the promise of a new life. They faced incredible hardship but focused on a future where they would raise the next generation who would know some prosperity. Likewise with my French ancestors who courageously came to populate New France and the Irish who came two centuries later. They believed in life and had many children. They also knew death, often losing wives in childbirth, children and other loved ones to disease and accident. They persevered because they believed in Providence, in hard work, and in themselves.

More recent generations faced economic depression and two great wars. They became known as the “Greatest Generation” because they rose to the occasion and, thanks to their efforts, brought forth decades of incredible technical and economic innovation and success. It was their sacrifice that led to the decades of prosperity that we have enjoyed and “spoiled” subsequent generations into thinking that peace and affluence isthe norm.

By contrast, our lives today are so comfortable. So much so, we fear any kind of suffering and do not have the confidence to cope with it. If we are unhappy at work, we quit. Unhappy in marriage? Divorce. Can’t deal with kids? Contracept, or worse, abort. Overwhelmed by physical or emotional pain? Suicide.

Today, I learned of the suicide of a young man in our community. It was the second time in as many weeks that I heard of someone who was distantly connected to me, with all the promise in the world, ending their own life. Although I don’t know them personally, it is crushing to receive such news.

Not speaking of any individual, I understand that mental illness is often a factor in suicide. I don’t take that lightly; I lost a friend to suicide years ago, and I witnessed the years-long struggle that led to it. But despair is also a factor, the belief that we are unable to survive the pain of crises and disappointments.

I believe what is lacking today is virtue, particularly the three Theological Virtues: Faith, Hope, and Charity. They help us to develop a healthy relationship with God and, in turn, with our fellow man.

  • Faith in God, and particularly the Christian faith, gives meaning to our lives. We understand who we are, children of God, and our purpose on earth, “to know, love and serve Him.” Our relationship with Christ infuses us with a desire to live well and to see Him in heaven someday. The more we know Him, the more the world and our place in it makes sense.
  • Hope is what allows us to trust in God. He has a plan for each of us and by placing our confidence in His Providence, we can weather the storms that frighten us. Trust in the Lord and be sure of His loving care.
  • Charity commands us to love God and one another. The love that we give to others and receive from them mirrors the love of God in the Trinity. Love is our ultimate purpose in life – loving our family, friends, neighbors… and even our enemies. Love is also something we need to receive; it is our lifeblood really. This exchange of love is a foretaste of heaven.

Our society has forsaken these virtues – forsaken God – and the result is people free-floating, adrift, afraid. We all hurt when we see others in fear and pain. We share in the grief of the parents whose sons have departed in depression and despair. Our hope must be in Christ; there is no other. Let us pray for all those who are lost and seeking Christ, although they may not know it, that this Lenten journey will end in the joy of the Resurrection, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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