"Christians know how to face difficulties, trials and defeat with serenity and hope in the Lord." ~ Pope Francis on Twitter
Pope Francis is obviously a Cardinals fan. This morning, I checked Twitter and saw this message from our Holy Father. It was as if he had written it for all of the Cardinal fans out there who, like me, woke up disappointed. In fact, I was thinking similarly and praying with St. Paul's words to the Corinthians last evening before I went to bed:
"We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body." (2 Corinthians 4: 8-10)
As frustrated as I was, this is how I felt last night with the Cardinals trailing by six as I walked into the chapel for Compline. The Cardinals' anemic offense and the Red Sox' clutch hitting made it pretty clear that there was not going to be a game 7. Yet in the midst of the woes of loss, I could not help but be filled with joy. The joy that only comes from Christ. The joy that only comes from love of Him who loved me. The joy that comes from living a life poured out for the will of the Father.
I was not happy, but I was joyful.
The Christian life is not easy, but it should lead to joy.
However, the fact remains that losing, whether in a game, a relationship, whatever, hurts. We have all experienced hurt. We have all known suffering. Most tragically, some know despair -- the loss of joy and hope.
Now, I pray that no one has fallen into despair this morning because of the Cardinals' loss, but, in an increasingly individualistic and secular society, a World Series loss might be that which leads to the destruction of hope. If my hope resides only in a team or myself, a seemingly insignificant setback can destroy hope. Sadly, all too often, we hear of people who fall into despair: men and women who have tried hard but through poor choices and bad circumstances have chosen to reject love and forgiveness.
In question 20 of the Secunda Secundae of the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches about despair. The Angelic Doctor identifies despair as sin against hope. He writes in Article 1:
"Just as the movement of hope, which is in conformity with the true opinion, is praiseworthy and virtuous, so the contrary movement of despair, which is in conformity with the false opinion about God, is vicious and sinful."
He continues in Article 3:
"Despair is more dangerous, since hope withdraws us from evils and induces us to seek for good things, so that when hope is given up, men rush headlong into sin, and are drawn away from good works. Wherefore a gloss on Prov. 24:10 ("If thou lose hope being weary in the day of distress, thy strength shall be diminished") says: 'Nothing is more hateful than despair, for the man that has it loses his constancy both in the every day toils of this life, and, what is worse, in the battle of faith.' And Isidore says (De Sum. Bono ii, 14): 'To commit a crime is to kill the soul, but to despair is to fall into hell.'"
As bleak as despair sounds, there is always hope. We need look no further than St. Augustine, who at the height of his success as an orator, lamented:
"Thou, my hope from my youth, where were Thou to me, and whither had Thou gone? For in truth, had Thou not created me, and made a difference between me and the beasts of the field and fowls of the air? You had made me wiser than they, yet did I wander about in dark and slippery places, and sought You abroad out of myself, and found not the God of my heart; and had entered the depths of the sea, and distrusted and despaired finding out the truth." (Confessions 6, 1, 1)
This same man would eventually seek the waters of Baptism and spend the rest of his life disputing the Donatists, who rejected from the Church anyone who sinned after baptism. Augustine would proclaim the grace and wonder of the Christian life, and the need for constant conversion and renewal in the Christian life. He himself went from the depths of despair to the heights of sanctity.
Virtue--in this case, hope--will always and everywhere defeat despair and sin.
With the grace and beauty that is all around us, with the wonder of the Sacraments, with the knowledge and trust that there will be another chance next year to win the World Series, let us not despair. Let us live in the hope of Our Lord Jesus and trust in his abiding love and mercy. Let us thank God that we (well, at least most of us) are not Cub fans. And let us remember the words of Our Blessed Lord:
"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."