By David Lichter
This theme of this new issue of Vision is: “Holding Hope: Lessons Learned from one year of pandemic.” But right now, my thoughts go further back than one year ago, that week in March when every day brought word of new closures and disruptions to the world as we knew it.
Instead, “hope” reminds me of our 2013 national conference in Pittsburgh, and the plenary speech by Fr. Donald Goergen, OP, PhD. He took as an example the diverse stages of hope in the face of a potential serious illness or loss. One can start with, “I hope I hear good news.” After the difficult diagnosis, one then might move to, “I hope I can get well soon.” When the illness gets worse, one might think, “I hope I can I receive the right treatment to finally conquer this illness.” When the illness is not curable, it becomes, “I hope I have some time yet to do the things I wanted to do.” As the end nears, “I hope I will not suffer and die alone.” And perhaps finally, “I hope God receives me with mercy and compassion.”
Fr. Goergen’s journey through the changing expressions of hope pointed out that we often visualize an end point to our hope, something not yet seen but imagined. Yet Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Similarly, our theme, “Holding Hope,” does not rely on a desired imagined future but on something more that allows us to see what is before us with new eyes.
I was struck by the early reflection/poem “Lockdown” that the Capuchin Franciscan Brother Richard Hendrick wrote back on Friday, March 13, now just a year ago – and it went viral. It began with:
Yes there is fear.
Yes there is isolation.
Yes there is panic buying.
Yes there is sickness.
Yes there is even death.
And he went on to point out life all around us in a myriad of ways, even in the most hard-hit countries. (A year ago, he was probably thinking of China and Italy, but the United States’ turn came.)
Br. Hendrick was “holding hope.” But I don’t think he meant a future spring that would come. Instead, what was happening all around him in that moment, because of his faith that “we are always encompassed by love,” gave him a new way of seeing.
The lessons learned in this past year seem to have everything to do with what we have seen because of the hope we share and hold together. Even though we enter year two, knowing that life will not return to the way it was in February 2020, we are grateful for the many, many signs of life and love that inspired us every day.
You, our NACC members, provided glimpses of grace and goodness to one another every time you shared with one another during this past year. I was struck deeply by so many of you who are living with extremely stressful situations, compounded by the complexities of balancing your profession and ministry with tending to your loved ones – whether they are sisters living in community with you, family members you have not been able to see or hug, deaths and goodbyes that had to be navigated from a distance, coworkers and friends scarred emotionally by isolation and disruption, unemployment, furloughs, or unexpected early retirements.
You have experienced holding hope in your holding one another with assurance and faith. In the lessons learned in the past year, hopefully one of them has been to sharpen our eyes of faith to see more about us with blessings and gratitude, and to echo the words that Br. Hendrick wrote a year ago:
Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic
The birds are singing again
The sky is clearing,
Spring is coming,
And we are always encompassed by Love.
Open the windows of your soul
And though you may not be able
to touch across the empty square,