On Hope

Surprise! I’m back! Thanks to the kindness of readers with certain connections, I have been released from FB prison. So I am posting again since I can now make what I blog here available to readers there. On with the blog!

I’m feeling hopeful these days. It’s nice to see my feelings catch up with my theology.

Perhaps I should unpack that.

Hope is not, in the Christian tradition, primarily a feeling anymore than love is. Feelings of love and hope are good when they happen to occur, as is good weather. But as a measure of The True Nature of Things, feelings are just as reliable as weather. Indeed, they can be thought of as the weather of your inner world, telling you (perhaps) about your biochemistry, your mood, your health, you diet, your use of pharmaceuticals, your genes, your family history, or a host of other changing variables. But they do not tell you a thing about God’s attitude toward you. They are not prophetic of ultimate reality and we are fools if we listen to them in contradiction to God’s self-revelation, which is always love because he is always love. Feeling are like polaroid lenses. Sometimes they allow the easy passage of light from God. Sometimes they block the light. Trust the Light, not the lens.

So my current mood of hope, while a happy one is not the Ultimate Determinant of What is Real. God is. and his self-revelation is contained in the Eucharist, which is the fullness of the Risen Jesus in his full humanity from conception by the Holy Spirit all the way through to his Ascended Glory at the right hand of the Father. It is in him that my hope is placed, not in my feelings, which are often stunning obtuse and blind to the truth of who he is.

Of late, I have been graced with the ability to grasp a little of the truth of who He is, thanks to a Eucharistic miracle that has always moved me and which (like all Eucharistic miracles and, indeed, all true miracles) shows us what is always the case even when we don’t happen to be able to see it with our eyes.

It took place in Betania, Venezuela in the early 90s. I wish I could find the video of the event but nobody seems to have ever put it on Youtube. There was a reported Marian apparition there and a cultus began to grow up around it. I normally pay little attention to such claims, but some lady from Podunk, Middle America did, and she dragged her reluctant husband to a Mass there. The interview revealed him to be a wonderfully average schmoe who clearly was only there because the wife made him be there. He brought, in the finest spirit of an American tourist and low reverence Catholic, a video to the outdoor Mass.

As the Mass proceeded, the priest consecrated the Host and set it on the paten. Then he consecrated the Cup. When he returned to the Host, there was a red dot in the center and when he elevated it, the dot began to run and drip what (upon analysis) turned out to be human blood. He stopped the liturgy and invited the congregant up to see it. Joe Schmoe from Middle America took his video cam up and filmed it, very close up. You could see it drip, drip, dripping blood on to the paten. Joe remarked in the interview, in the most authentic and believable piety, “I thought, ‘Holy shit! It’s bleeding!'” The Host was then submitted for testing by a lab. Yep, it was bleeding blood.

Now, here’s the thing: the wrong lesson to take from this is that this was a Real[TM] Eucharistic Miracle and what happens at an ordinary Mass is not. Rather, what happened in Betania, Lanciano and similar rare events is a reminder of what happens every single time Mass is celebrated. The Host in Betania is not “more” Jesus Christ than other Hosts. It is just a visible reminder of what every Host is.

But, far more, for me at any rate, is simply the reminder, not that the Real Presence is real (I’ve believed that for three decades) but a renewed appreciation of the sheer love behind the Sacrifice. Tolkien wrote his son Christopher:

“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament. . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.

By the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste—or foretaste—of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.”

It’s that: the real and true love of Jesus in his self-offering that I have been given to see in a fresh way, that gives me hope. Yes, I am aware that lots of Catholics can be assholes (not least, me). I’m aware of the selfishness and stupidity and sin. Why do you think we need a Savior. But with Jesus himself, the oblation is pure, the offering is full of romance, glory, honor, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth. Here, there is a place you can stand without sinking into a bog of cynicism and endless failure. Here, there is hope, and I am grateful for it. The Eucharist is, as Benedict XVI observed, not a “holy thing” but the person of Jesus himself. He, not “it”, is here and he is trustworthy because he really does love us and have our good in mind at all times, regardless of the cost to himself. He is not a predator but is, if I may put it so, the Apex Prey. We tried to make him the ultimate victim of our carnivorous ways and, in the greatest cosmic jiu jitsu move in history, he turned that into the occasion of his self-giving and transformative miracle.

So I’m taking Tolkien’s advice and going back to daily Mass, which I left off during COVID and got lazy about. I love his typically crusty advice, which takes dead aim at his own snobbery:

“The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise.

Frequency is of the highest effect.

Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.
Also I can recommend this as an exercise (alas! only too easy to find opportunity for): make your Communion in circumstances that affront your taste. Choose a snuffling or gabbling priest or a proud and vulgar friar; and a church full of the usual bourgeois crowd, ill-behaved children—from those who yell to those products of Catholic schools who the moment the tabernacle is opened sit back and yawn—open-necked and dirty youths, women in trousers and often with hair both unkempt and uncovered. Go to Communion with them (and pray for them).

It will be just the same (or better than that) as a mass said beautifully by a visibly holy man, and shared by a few devout and decorous people.

It could not be worse than the mess of the feeding of the Five Thousand—after which our Lord propounded the feeding that was to come.”

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7 Responses

  1. Anybody else get to watch “The Sandman” on Netflix? I swear its not off topic to ask about this on a Catholic blog on the subject of “hope”. Its a bit of a spoiler though. Or foreshadowing. Take your pick.

  2. Wonderful article Mark, speaking of Hope, I’ve become deeply interested in Hans Von Balthsar’s “Dare We Hope”, and I have even started wondering if those that take issue with the work, have even read it. It truly is “Good News”, have you written any articles on the book?

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