2018 – Souls anchored in hope

A boy lights candles during a candlelight vigil for victims killed when gunmen attacked a Christian church in Quetta, Pakistan, on December 19, 2017. Photo: Naseer Ahmed/Reuters

A boy lights candles during a candlelight vigil for victims killed when gunmen attacked a Christian church in Quetta, Pakistan, on December 19, 2017. Photo: Naseer Ahmed/Reuters

In Psalm 31:23-24, the psalmist winds up with a short burst of song, in which on the grounds of his own experience, his heart goes out to others: “Love the Lord all His faithful people! The Lord preserves those who are true to Him, but the proud He pays back in full. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.”

The new year often brings with it an assortment of resolutions, filled with good intent, like ‘staying fit’ and ‘losing weight’. We spend the early days of January walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched and loans to be repaid, and finding new friends to widen our social network.

Goal-setting is necessary but Christianity invites us to discover that the true birthplace of a new year is in the heart of hope, a Biblical hope that goes beyond the notion of wishful thinking or setting a smart roadmap. Christianity invites us to dwell into the realm of Biblical hope, which is the true anchor of the soul.

A Christian definition of hope is far superior to that of the world. Instead of wishing or hoping for something to happen, believers know that their hope is solid, concrete evidence, because it is grounded in the Word of God, and we know that God cannot lie (Heb 6:18).

Paradoxically, persecution suffered by Christians is strengthening rather than weakening a faith that ignites a living hope

The closure of 2017 brings with it a collage of memories, some of which are delightful but others bring much sadness to the human heart.

Of particular note is the consistent hostility towards Christians all over the globe. Extreme persecution has intensified in places like Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Egypt, marking another turbulent year of terrorism and historical crimes. Christians persecuted in Iraq, who had to flee to the safer south, were left without homes, schools, hospitals and jobs. Families were left without fathers and there was rampant violence against women.

But paradoxically, Archbishop Luis Sako of Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, revealed that the persecution suffered by Iraqi Christians at the hands of Muslim fundamentalists is strengthening rather than weakening their faith, a faith that ignites a living hope. This resonates with Pope Francis’s own words during one of his recent general audiences: “Even if many experience life as a prolonged period of suffering, such as people haunted by violence and war, there is still a father who weeps with infinite compassion for his children and who waits to console them with a very different future.”

Christian hope is secured in our ultimate destination, the heavenly Kingdom of God. As St Paul proclaimed: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Retracing the events of 2017 may recall both moments of joy and sorrow, but it also offers a moment to understand the presence of God, who “renews and sustains with His help”.

Pope Francis invites us to ponder that even though the year was marred by violence and the suffering of people fleeing for better living conditions, Christians must interpret the signs given by God to truly see His merciful love. In the midst of this turmoil, the Pontiff continues: “there were also gestures of goodness, love and solidarity”.

“These good things,” he said when greeting a crowd in 2015 in St Peter Square, “never make the news”.

Gordon Vassallo is an accredited spiritual guide at the Centre for Ignatian Spirituality.

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