On optimism and hope

FATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER

Hope is a theological virtue. Optimism is not.

In March of 1938, when the naive among his contemporaries still thought they might cut a deal with the National Socialists, Winston Churchill saw his country "descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf."

A gulf beckons today, and no amount of forced optimism or self-conscious jollity will stop the descent to its shadows. There is nothing inevitable about what lies ahead, but providence will overcome fatalism only if people absorb what Pope Benedict XVI said last January: "...it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church's public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres."

Those words would probably confuse the comfortable man who objected to me about a prayer that mentioned "enemies of the Faith." He said with suburban unction that "there are no enemies anymore." He was unaware that somewhere around 200 million Christians live under daily threat in 197 countries. Last year, nearly 100,000 Christians were killed because of their Christianity, in lands from North Korea and China, to Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, Laos, Sudan, and on and on, including some supposed allies of our nation, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt.

The man who saw no enemies might plead with good reason that the media have, to put it mildly, inadequately publicized these persecutions. That kind of plea, however, can no longer be sustained when elements of our own government have declared war on the Church, and persecution both subtle and blatant has gone domestic. Catholics have not been prepared to deal with this, and some have even been compliant. If we rely only on institutional bureaucracy to be our line of defense, we may find it to be a Maginot Line. The Allies were unprepared when Churchill spoke in 1938 because people wanted butter not guns, but found soon enough that butter was being rationed, and guns were pointing at them.

Pope Benedict spoke of "a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience." It is not possible to look through stained glass windows, so the man who saw no enemies outside his air-conditioned and centrally heated church will be surprised if he tries to visit a Catholic hospital two years from now and finds that there is none, only a dark gulf. The Archbishop of Chicago has considered that possibility if the Health and Human Services regulations are not rescinded.

Hope is a theological virtue. Optimism is not. The wise have warned that pessimists are unhappy fools and optimists are happy fools. But the hopeful are not foolish. Christ began his war with a forty-day battle in a desert filled with wild beasts, but as they prowled about, He could hear angels.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father George William Rutler. "On optimism and hope." From the Pastor (March 4, 2012).

Reprinted with permission of Father George W. Rutler.

THE AUTHOR

Father Rutler received priestly ordination in 1981. Born in 1945 and reared in the Episcopal tradition, Father Rutler was an Episcopal priest for nine years. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1979 and was sent to the North American College in Rome for seminary studies. Father Rutler graduated from Dartmouth, where he was a Rufus Choate Scholar, and took advanced degrees at the Johns Hopkins University and the General Theological Seminary. He holds several degrees from the Gregorian and Angelicum Universities in Rome, including the Pontifical Doctorate in Sacred Theology, and studied at the Institut Catholique in Paris. In England, in 1988, the University of Oxford awarded him the degree Master of Studies. From 1987 to 1989 he was regular preacher to the students, faculty, and townspeople of Oxford. Cardinal Egan appointed him Pastor of the Church of Our Saviour, effective September 17, 2001.

Since 1988 his weekly television program has been broadcast worldwide on EWTN. Father Rutler has published 17 books, including: Cloud of Witnesses - Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2012 Father George W. Rutler




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