Remember – we’ve already won

We must be hopeful, even without positive signs

“Tell me,” asked my friend at the other end of the phone. “Do you see any signs of hope around the place?” The man in question works in the world of financial services, has a young family, and, in the words of Bertie Ahern, wants to see the Church “do well”.
I knew what he was asking. He wanted to know if I’d heard any reports of parishes noticing an increase in Mass attendance or of any religious order or diocese bucking the vocations trend. He wanted to hear of any diocesan or parish gatherings that were drawing good crowds or any initiatives that were attracting young people.
I gave him examples of all of the above but there was an additional and important point to be made.
My friend was looking for some sign that a Catholic recovery was on the way. His approach was similar to the way we look at the monthly unemployment figures as a measure of the health of the economy.
But, when it comes to the Church’s fortunes in Ireland, it might not be wise to allow one’s hope to depend on what we casually call ‘signs of hope’.
As Christians, we are called to be hopeful even when we see few, if any, signs of hope in our culture, in society or the Church. 
Stories of improved Mass attendance and good turn outs at church events are certainly encouraging and it’s good to share them with others. But our ‘hope’ does not depend on this.
Instead, our hope is based on something far more fundamental. We are hopeful because, in Christ, we are able to know God. And we believe God knows us. There is meaning to our existence. We believe that God has entered human history and all creation is drenched with divinity. We believe there is a resurrection, even of our human bodies. We believe there is justice. Death and sin are defeated. We are redeemed.
The old way of expressing this was ‘the victory has already been achieved’.  We don’t hear it much anymore but it basically means God is in charge.
It’s perfectly natural for us to look for signs of encouragement. But, thankfully, our hope is based on more than we see around us. 
A few years ago I was finishing a conversation with a wise priest with a discussion about some recent Church scandal. We agreed the situation in question was bleak and as we drifted away in opposite directions he called after me, “But remember – we’ve already won!”
We have already won. And that is reason enough to be always hopeful.

Hardy People
Anyone who doubted the resilience of the faithful should have been at the annual candlelight procession at the Oblate’s Mary Immaculate church in Inchicore on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The weather could hardly have been more unfavourable with storms, freezing cold and snow showers. But that didn’t deter several hundred people from turning out for the rosary procession and benediction at the life-size Lourdes grotto behind the church.
The night was cold and the flickering candle flames were no match for the wind. There was something beautiful though about the sight of the snow falling during the Divine Praises.
It reminded me of a priest who once advised that if ever in doubt about going ahead with a procession, always proceed. The people who turn up for a procession, he said, want to process! 

Transformer 2014
How do you gather up to 100 young adults in Dublin city centre each Wednesday in wintertime for an evening of prayer and reflection?
Ask the organisers of the ‘Transformer 2014’ faith formation course!
They’ve been running a seven week programme at St Teresa’s Church in Clarendon St based on the well-known “Life in the Spirit” seminar. The goal is to help young people to grow in their faith. The course has grown out of the “Living Water” prayer group which has been meeting in Dublin for the past several years.
The evening begins with prayer-and-praise style music and this seems to be an important ingredient. This contemporary ‘Praise and Worship’ music is very popular at the moment among young Catholics. Beginning the session with music helps the participants to focus on God and to pray together as a group. This is followed by a talk and a discussion. Recent talks have included topics such as, ‘The Father’s Love’ and ‘The Kingdom of God’.
The event has been promoted among existing networks of young Catholics in Dublin and that partly explains the impressive attendance.
It’s certainly a sign of encouragement!