Five things that give me hope



by Heidi Schlumpf

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It's that time of year when Catholics are getting ready to make their second round of New Year's resolutions -- aka Lenten resolutions. If, like me, you're a chronic breaker of resolutions, there's hope. The latest trend is to eschew specific promises in favor of a one-word resolution.

The idea is to focus on the spirit of who you will be in the next year, rather than on a specific behavior, according to the co-author of My One Word: Change Your Life With Just One Word.

"As soon as you fail, you've broken the resolution," author Rachel Olsen told Fast Company. "A word can't be broken. It serves as a reminder; a filter. It's who you want to be instead of what you regret."

Popular one-word resolutions -- "breathe," "savor," "presence," "connect," "gratitude," "balance" and "simplify" -- reveal something of an individualistic and "spiritual but not religious" slant. But this practice could have a deeper spiritual or even Catholic focus. How about "prayer," "service" or "faith"? To choose my word for 2015, I went to the list of cardinal virtues.

My choice: "hope."

Don't assume I picked an easy one. An early family Christmas letter that described the toddler me as "serious, sometimes grumpy" in comparison to my "cheerful, always smiling" sister should give you some indication of my pessimistic tendencies. Case in point: This article originally was to be titled "15 things that give me hope."

Of course, hope is more than mere optimism. Hope "responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man," according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and has us "placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength" for that happiness.

So, without further ado, here are the five things that give me hope, especially hope for our church -- things I hope to emphasize, celebrate and even cultivate in 2015:

5. Children and the next generation: Now that our children are old enough to converse with, I'm continually amazed at their insights. Nothing gives me hope like my daughter collecting donations for poor children in lieu of birthday gifts, or my son praying in gratitude for "God helping me to be unselfish" that day. Of course, our kids are not unique; if you can't find hope in the face of a child, you really do need it as your one-word resolution.

Plenty of folks are pessimistic about millennials and the generation that follows them. I'm not. Sure, they have their issues, just as every generation has. I've been teaching just long enough to see graduates succeeding in their work and personal lives. Since I hit 50 this year, it's especially gratifying to see those in their 20s, 30s and even 40s make new beginnings and make a difference with their lives. While it's true that a significant number of younger Catholics choose not to affiliate with institutional religion, I'm hopeful that even they will contribute to our world and our church in positive ways, perhaps even by their absence.

4. Lay Catholics: A close friend responded to my recent column about how "I stopped pinning my hopes on prelates" (NCR, Dec. 19-Jan. 1) by asking me what I did pin my hopes on. (Thanks for the column idea, Kevin!) I'm not saying there aren't some good folks in leadership in the Catholic church, but more often than not, for me, any inspiration from them is tempered by disappointment. (That includes our current pope.)

Lay folks, on the other hand, never cease to amaze me. Everyday folks working on graduate degrees in theology. Catholics attending not just to their own spiritual growth, but that of others, as spiritual directors. Religious education teachers passing along the faith to fidgety and distracted kids. None of these things will reward the giver with power or prestige, yet there is no shortage of laypeople putting themselves out there to do God's work in the world.

3. LGBT issues: The speed with which our culture is becoming accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and broadening their rights has surprised me. (See comment about my pessimism above.) It's nothing short of astonishing and gives me hope for other human rights issues around the world. While there's still work to be done, the work of past generations is truly paying off. While the institutional church is lagging on this issue, polls find that the majority of lay Catholics, especially younger Catholics, support gay marriage.

2. Women: While there may not be as dramatic of institutional change when it comes to women's issues, I still find hope in women of all ages and in those working for women's equality and dignity, in society and in our church.

1. God: Ultimately, of course, I put my hope not in the things, or even the people, of this world, but rather in God. In prayer, meditation and liturgy, I am able to connect with something/someone beyond me that reassures me that "all shall be well."

Still, it is in the children and the next generation, lay Catholics, LGBT activists and women that I experience God and the Holy Spirit in our world.

What gives you hope? What one word could guide you in 2015?

[Heidi Schlumpf teaches communication at Aurora University outside Chicago. She is the author of While We Wait: Spiritual and Practice Advice for Those Trying to Adopt (ACTA).]

A version of this story appeared in the Feb 13-26, 2015 print issue under the headline: Five things that give me hope.

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