By Father Leonard Peterson

Optimism is a slippery concept. I can grasp it one moment with a sure grip, only to lose it in a moment with someone else’s ugly reminder of what’s evil in the world. Surely you too have had the experience of sharing some good news that you experienced personally, or read about in the paper with someone, only to have that very someone tell you about a bad experience they had in the same general circumstances.

Males have a crude expression to describe such people. I don’t know what expression ladies might use, but all of us could do without the naysayers whose unacknowledged hobby is to destroy optimism whenever it arises. {{more}}

Here at the outset of a brand new year, this writer is still rejoicing in the various happenings inspired by Christmas. They gave optimism a needed boost. The first of these was very local for me, as I saw packed everywhere in the narthex of our church over 2,200 wrapped gifts (a record number I was told) destined for the poor and needy of our area. These gifts included welcome donations for school tuition assistance, food coupons and bill payments. I am sure most parishes in the Archdiocese sponsored similar campaigns with like responses.

Then there was the enduring online photo of Pope Benedict XVI’s day-after-Christmas luncheon with 500 of Rome’s neediest people in the same room where he had joined new cardinals of the Church only a month earlier. Seeing him seated at table with these people could not have been a more graphic rejection of the cynical labeling of this good man as “God’s Rottweiler.” If I live to be 83, I would hope to have at least a fraction of the man’s energy and charitable outreach.

The Internet also yielded stories of Archbishops Dolan of New York and Wenski of Miami joining the poor of their dioceses, and our own Cardinal Rigali’s Christmas party for needy children. Concrete acts of charity do not need verbal accompaniment, but they do serve to reinforce the foundations of optimism.

Then there was that unexpected story out of Hawaii two days after Christmas of President Obama’s phone call to Jeffrey Lurie, the Eagles owner, in which he praised the owner for giving quarterback Michael Vick a second chance at life as a football player and as a man. Anybody who has watched Vick play the game, especially as he led the game on Dec. 19, knows that he has brought an injection of vitality to the team that hasn’t been there for quite awhile. Anybody who has seen Vick’s appearances at schools telling students his story and how he intends to reform has to admire his humility. Optimism got yet another boost.

I am as aware as you are about the nine years of war our country has been fighting and the tragedy of young American lives cut off before they had a chance at adulthood. We know about the pervasive influence of secularism that led to what became a national embarrassment for our city with the silly strategy behind removing the word “Christmas” from a Christmas village opposite City Hall. We have all followed with dismay the awful killings in Kensington. We know that there is a cultural clash all over our world with the tenets of Christianity regarding the human person and even marriage.

Yet, with the tenacity of a candle blowing in the wind that refuses to extinguish, optimism perdures as an element of the human spirit. Even when it goes unacknowledged, I believe all the credit for this belongs to the Holy Spirit.

Father Peterson is pastor of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Hatfield.