During the Second World War, the concentration camps were notorious for their viciousness. Millions died out of starvation and ill treatment. However even in that living hell, rays of hope shone with amazing radiance.
“It was the cold winter of 1944 and although we had nothing like calendars, my father, who was a fellow prisoner, took me and some of our friends to a corner of the barrack. He announced that it was the eve of Hanukkah.”
The Hanukkah is a Jewish feast commemorating the victory of an outnumbered number of Jewish fighters, led by the Maccabees, against the dominant culture of the Greeks. When they arrived in Jerusalem and wanted to rededicate the despoiled Temple, they found that there was only enough purified oil to kindle the temple light for only one day. But miraculously, the light continued to burn for eight days. This is why it is called the ‘festival of light’ and basically it celebrates freedom. (By the way, this year Hanukkah is going to start at sundown on December 25!)
The story continues. “My father then produced a curious-shaped bowl, and began to light a wick immersed in his precious, but now melted, margarine ration. Before he could recite the blessing, I protested at the waste of food. He looked at me, then at the lamp, and finally said: ‘You and I have seen that it is possible to live up to three weeks without food. We once lived almost three days without water. But you cannot live properly for three moments without hope’.”
This is true. Hope is like oxygen. Take oxygen away and death comes by suffocation; take hope away and death comes by despair. We live on hope. When hope dies, we die.
Many times in life we feel like throwing the towel… on our marriage, on our children, on our character, on our Church. It is then that hope can and should kick in. Hope is like a star. It is not visible in the sunshine of prosperity but it shines brightly in the night of adversity
Because, hope means specifically this – never giving up. An inner voice keeps telling you inside that ‘things are going to be better’. It is different from ‘wishful thinking’. Wishful thinking is rooted in denial; it is a pretending about the future. Hope is based on the solid foundation that God can and God will!
The psalms especially, with their concrete and varied language, teach us to fix our hope not in daydreaming but in God: “I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and He heard my cry”.
When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to burn the three young men in the furnace (remember the story?), their answer is full of confidence: “If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).
“Our God . . . is able.” It is as simple as that. They were hundred and ten per cent sure that He could and that he would! No panic, no alarm, no insecurity, no fear. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were three confident young men because they were building on rock.
I was only fourteen when I saw on TV, Wilma Rudolph running in the 1960 Olympic Games of Rome. She was a sight to behold. Tall, fast and black.
In that Olympics she became the ‘fastest woman of the world’ and the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics. ESPN wrote “Rudolph ran and the world went wild!” But it is the story of how she got there that makes her accomplishments legendary. Born prematurely (twentieth child of 22), she spent most of her childhood in bed. Double pneumonia, scarlet fever and later she contacted polio! After losing the use of her left leg, she was fitted with metal braces when she was six. “My doctors told me I would never walk again. My mother told me I would. I believed my mother.”
At nine years of age, the little girl removed the leg brace and took the first steps doctors told her she would never be able to take. At age thirteen, she entered her first race. She finished way, way last! She entered every race in high school and in every race she came in last. Everyone advised her to quit. She did not. One day she came in next to last. And then… it is history.
Wilma believed in her mother. You, I… can believe in a Father with a capital F. We do not believe in a super power. We believe in a Super Person! He hears. He cares. He delivers. Let us hop(e) on! Ours is a hope that is grounded in the sure work of God through His Son on a Tree two-thousand years ago.
“Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us”. Amen to that!
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.