Despair may not be the best word to describe folks’ reaction to our national politics, our Church or our hope for a world where people aren’t daily blown up, raped and starved. Pessimism may be better. Still, many folks are near giving up on one or all of our institutions and our efforts to construct a world closer to our dreams.
A recent op-ed piece in the New York Times echoed the advice many Catholics have received from friends both in and outside of the Church: “Just leave.” It’s mistaken to assume that the urgers or the urgees have been lax or casual members of The Community; the usual case is just the opposite. And that’s just the situation in the Church.
When folks begin to talk about state or national politics, our economic behavior, the many wars going on or the living conditions of millions of the world’s poor, the temptation to helplessly throw up one’s hands is too much for many of us.
Lest we think that this is a new reality in the effort to live and act in God’s hope, it’s good to note that the story of a few loaves of bread feeding a multitude of hungry people occurs frequently in the Scriptures. The point of these stories isn’t to impress us with God’s or Jesus’ power so that we’ll pay them fitting homage. This isn’t about homage. It is about hope.
The good news in such tales of amazing nourishment is that God stands with us for life and growth even when success looks absolutely impossible. Such stories are common in Scripture because doubts about life turning out well are common. We can’t allow I don’t see any way that this can turn out well to be a reason for giving up on God’s promise.
Is giving up understandable? Of course. Should we condemn or shun folks who throw in the towel? Never. The pain of wanting out is a predictable price of caring deeply and intelligently about any aspect of life: social, political or religious. It’s an occasion for respect and encouragement, not for harangues about faithlessness or hints of hellfire.
Encouragement is a gift that we always owe everyone, especially those with whom we’ve shared communion in Jesus. We offer it while acknowledging that we too live with more faith than answers.