‘Hope is not the same as optimism’

This observation, by the Czech playwright and president, Václav Havel, is quoted by Fr Diarmuid O’Murchu as opening a door to understanding where we are called to go in a future after Covid.

Václav Havel

It has been said many times, and most emphatically by Pope Francis, that we cannot go back to pre-Covid days as if nothing has happened. Some politicians are leading their people to think that if we can just get a reliable vaccine – and it seems we now have one – we can get ‘back to normal’ and, most importantly, get the economy going again.

But no, says the seemingly still minority opinion, it is not medicine only we need but conversion. We simply cannot go back to where we were where we squeeze nature to serve our interests regardless of the consequences. We can repeat the adage: God always forgives; men and women sometimes forgive; nature never forgives. But nature will bounce back if given a chance. The destruction of the ozone layer has been halted and is slowly reforming and fish have returned to the no longer polluted rivers of Europe. But we, and especially the young among us, now know that the planet will continue to warm up unless we take action. And a consensus is slowly accumulating to support that action, even to demand it.

And so we continue with the question: can we return to what we considered our normal way of life in a post-Covid world? What the mounting number of voices is telling us is ‘no’. We have to ‘lose our life if we are to find it’. We have to put a limit on our lust for power and wealth if we and our children are to have a good life on this earth. The human body has a built-in immunity as a gift of nature. But in the world of the spirit immunity is not built-in. It has to be chosen freely. The gift of the human spirit is that we construct our own ever evolving immunity by our choices. The vaccine, like any medicine, does not affect our choices. It just does its job, like air in a tyre or fuel in an engine.

We need another kind of immunity as a result of the scare both Covid and global warming are giving us. And this is where Václav Havel comes in. We find no solution in optimism which is often defined as ‘hoping for the best’ but which, in practice, means looking forward to things returning to normal. That is not hope. Hope is being open to a new future which will reveal itself when we preserve the best of what we have achieved while avoiding those things we now know to be harmful to us and our planet.   

In Advent, O’Murchu tells us, we focus on God coming to us but we would do well to invert the focus to one of us coming to God.  Covid is like John the Baptist: it comes to warn us to ‘make straight the ways’ and that means to pay attention to what we have to do to make sure this planet will still be around so that our children and our children’s children have ‘life to the full’.    

13 Dec 2020    Advent Sunday 3 B    Is 61:1-2, 10-11           1 Th 5: 16-24      Jn 1:6-8, 19-28  

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