Recently, in my travels throughout NYC something occurred in a subway car. I was returning to the Bronx from Manhattan, when early in my travels five men entered the same car as me. A car, mind you, that was already becoming pretty filled with people. The smell of these gentleman filled the car quickly. Within minutes of the subway training moving along to the next stop it became clear that all these men where on something. That something might’ve been alcohol, drugs, or a mixture of the two. They were loud and rude, causing a situation where those around them began to move away, causing the five to push and shove each other to claim one of the newly vacated seats. Much of their conversation between themselves was about their currently ‘wasted state’ or previously ‘wasted states.’ Of course, they were using language that I dare not type for you all. As I listened and watched these men my heart had only one response to them: pity.
I pitied them, why? Because, I sensed the despair within them. A despair masked with the jovialness of an inebriated state. The void that resides within each human heart. A void meant for the Lord as St. Augustine wrote about in his Confession. However, it appears to me that people, in these modern times, forgot that this void is not a neutral thing. By neutral I mean leaving no impact on a person. This void yearns for fulfillment. A fulfillment that can only come from another. Of course, that other is God. The human heart is made for love, and thus, for God, because our God is love. Therefore, we Christians can speak about our heart being a place, a temple, for the Lord, because it was made for love, and the door of this temple is hope.
This place of love, our human hearts, needs hope as it travels through the world. Why? Because, hope allows our hearts to know that its yearning for fulfillment is possible. Via hope our hearts can sense and embrace the life of fulfillment that is offered to it from the pierce heart of Jesus. How, because the heart is opened via hope to Jesus. This movement of hearts towards each other is told to us by St. Paul “Through Him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2). Hope opens the heart to God’s glory, and what is the glory of God about? As St. Irenaeus of Lyon wrote “The glory of God is a human fully alive.”
Despair, the surrendering of hope, keeps one from this fullness of life, because the heart becomes closed to its only source of fulfillment. Pain and frustration now arise from within the void of the heart because it has closed the door of hope. A heart that is closed in on itself is insatiable. The suffering heart without hope now becomes blind, because the light of love ushered in by hope is no longer present. Without hope, despair rules the heart, and thus the heart begins a quest to find satisfaction through its life in the world. This quest of and for satisfaction/fulfillment only finds agents that can numb the heart to its inner pain, but these moments of numbness are short lived and temporary. Once numbness becomes unachievable the despairing heart turns to cannibalistic actions seeking life from within, but the heart cannot give what it does not possess. Thus, in its cannibalistic act, death is not far behind. It is in this pursuit of fleeting numbness and even death that one can see the life of slavery that sin brings about in a person.
But, despair need not be the end of a person. As the first light of the advent wreath reminds the Church, the beginning of each new year begins with hope. Alexander Pope wrote “Hope springs eternal in the human breast: Man never is, but always to be blest” (from a poem called An Essay on Man). Hope forfeited is not to say that hope is lost. Hope is a gift that is always being offered to heart. Like a flame that always pours forth its light liberally to all around it, so this gift of hope, that allows the heart to sense fulfillment in another, is being offered to each of us from the heart of Christ.
Within the pity my heart has for those men, I pray that they may accept the hope offered freely to them by Christ. A hope that doesn’t numb the heart, but instead, opens it to the love that is flowing to it. A love that doesn’t numb. Instead, a love that purifies and vivifies the heart, making it possible for the heart to respond to the Lord. Remember, the door crafted within our hearts, by the gift of hope, is the door upon which Jesus will knock (Rev.3:20).
“Faith lifts the soul. Hope supports it. Experience says it must. And Love says let it be!” ~St. Elizabeth Ann Seton