I want to make something extremely clear: I am a man of faith. Perhaps you’ve just scratching your head or terribly relieved at this point, but I was recently reflecting on the depth of what that statement really means. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving, preaching the gospel – this is, in fact, a Catholic website – but I’ve been convicted more and more that real Biblical, Catholic, Jesus-centered faith requires something much more uncomfortable and unpopular: hope.
Hope is both the grease and the glue that strengthens and enables an authentic life in Christ.
It keeps us strong when we must defend our core beliefs, and it works overtime to smooth out the roughness – the tensions – with an efficiency that is often revealed as a whisper: “I love you. You were created for greatness. I will not abandon you.” This unique love of God is meant to transform us – and in turn the world. To keep us strong and to send us out – And if we believe these things like we really understand them – we’ve got to respond.
Years ago I realized that real, authentic hope demands that I discern how I view the world and especially Catholic parishes. I’m willing to bet that you’re holier than me, but I spent nearly a decade internally criticizing parishes for being ignorant, mismanaged, irrelevant, and virtually ineffective. I thought I was putting my education and skills to “good use” by crucially examining the heart of the matter, but instead, I was ignoring hope. I pushed it aside because it was “too basic for the complex issues facing the American Catholic community.” The preaching, leadership, music, youth ministry – these issues were above the pay grade of hope – or so I thought.
I realized that hope demands that I exchange my dirty (read: burned out, taxed, tired, prideful, educated, ignorant) eyeglasses for a new pair. And I’ll be honest: I was really comfortable with the previous set. They were broken in. My eyes were totally adjusted to the prescription. They matched nearly every outfit I owned. I felt smart in them. They made me look good.
Embracing hope meant expanding my vision of the grease and the glue – instead of just keeping me strong for an apologetic battle where my faith was questioned – I realized that hope also holds together reputations, potential, and trust. It has become the grease that actually helps me move away from my judgment and into a new light: the presence of God – even in the mess. I put on new glasses, and I started to see opportunity instead of failure, and in the process, God has continually reminded me that all things are indeed possible.
I want to share what convicted me. This was the moment that I realized I was the one mismanaged and ineffective. And I want you to take these crisp new pair of readers that I’m about the share and try them on for a second. They might need some adjusting time so forgive me if you feel dizzy or disoriented, but here we go: The Catholic parish is amazing because it is a combination of two incredibly holy things: God’s tangible grace in the sacraments and God’s tangible grace through people, His creation. There is an encounter every day of true grace. C.S Lewis perfectly says “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses” and to logically follow the ramifications of that idea is a game changing, earth shattering truth that often gets lost in the day-to-day management, phone calls, complaints, off-key notes, and irrelevant homilies. Your parish is amazing because God is there. And if we claim to believe that God’s presence isn’t dependent on our actions then we’ve got to start prioritizing hope in the One who is faithful. Every. Time.
Once I began to start from that place – the encounter of dual holy realities – things began to change. I wanted to volunteer instead of criticize because I saw potential, not failures. I started wondering how my home parish could become an even greater witness to the encounter – and working for a church that embraced this truth solidified the effectiveness of exchanging my glasses for a new pair.
Starting from the default position of hope instead of criticism changed my life, and it influenced every part of my prayer, work, and commitments to Catholic parishes around the country. I’m no saint – but I know many of you share similar struggles that it’s just so damn easy to default to negativity, criticism, hopelessness about the condition of the parish we attend or the parish where we work. Let today be a new day – try it for a week, snap a rubber band on your wrist when you default to assuming ignorance or malice and pray “God, teach me to live in hope. Show me the reality of your presence.” Things will change. People will tell you that you’ve lost your mind or forgotten reality – but your reply should be simple: “I’m not ignoring the fact that we’ve got work to do, and lots of it. I’ve decided to reorient my starting place – hope instead of negativity.” Imagine two or three people in a parish office embracing this mentality? It’s contagious.
Your parish is amazing because God is actually present both in the sacraments and in the men, women, and children who enter your door – even if they are chewing gum and talking loud. God wants to reveal himself to us in a profound and personal way – every single day. I’m praying for you.