We know what love looks like: closeness to those we care about; service to those who need help, presence to the lonely, sick and dying. We have an image of faith: people gathered for quiet prayer or sitting in solitude; spirits raised in joyful song; hands clasped in devotion.
But what does hope look like? It’s less something you see than an undercurrent you feel. And that tug is making itself felt in these disruptive days of pandemic.
The coronavirus has achieved something new for our country in the form of empty streets, businesses and churches that no previous war, depression or civic disturbance could do in two and a half centuries. But it’s also not new, only the latest episode in a crisis of fear that’s been building for years.
National policies and personal behaviors have been revealing our fears of the unseen or little understood at least since 2001. We fear the unseen militant fanatic. We fear financial insecurity even with a steady income. We fear immigrants or other marginalized people and the cultural changes they offer. Now we fear a virus we can’t see or combat.
There’s a long-running epidemic of fear in America but there’s also the antidote of hope, the only answer to fear. The undercurrent of hope flowing beneath us also can’t be seen but you know it’s there in the sacrifices people are making just by staying home, for the greater good.
While isolated, they are connecting at least by phone with relatives and friends, or chatting at a safe distance with neighbors. They’re also using their time at home to power up a computer or smartphone to enrich their faith life.
What does hope look like? One sign of it is this website’s page on available streaming Masses and devotions at 55 parishes in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia while no public Masses are celebrated in the parishes. Our list is growing every day, and you’re sure to find your parish or one nearby at which you can watch the daily and Sunday Mass, pray morning prayer or a rosary with fellow Catholic Christians from this region.
It will take some time to present numbers on just how many people are actively praying throughout the day remotely, but two recent online presentations offer a clue about hope’s pull on our hearts.
Archbishop Nelson Perez celebrated a private Mass for the second time last Sunday, March 22 at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. More than 116,000 people watched that Mass on all platforms (ArchPhila.org and CatholicPhilly.com being just two) from the comfort of their homes — 100 times the cathedral’s seating capacity. At least as many will likely continue to watch online at 11 a.m. Sundays for the foreseeable future.
And the “Celebrating Mary’s Yes” event to pray the rosary for an increase of vocations in the archdiocese had expected to gather 3,000 people at several locations March 25. With the pandemic restrictions on public gatherings, that rosary rally went online — and counted 27,000 participants — nine times the number expected.
These examples and many more are signs of hope springing from prayer that breaks through the cold ground. Through our acts of concern for others we invite the Holy Spirit to grow the faith in our hearts and love in our hands.
Ways to nurture that growth are perhaps to give some of the food we’ve stocked up on in recent weeks to food banks like those of archdiocesan charities, or after the social restrictions have lifted, the gift of our time that we’ve banked during these days at home.
We Catholics must be witnesses of hope humbled in poverty and ministering credibly to the poor in spirit, in goods or in health. There is no room for fear in this family of faith, but a ready welcome for the jobless and the anxious. We offer a seat, a meal and a story — the story and presence of Christ our hope.
God’s love continues to burn throughout the world in us, his children. We the fearless are what hope looks like, a sign that God remains ever present with his grace that drives out useless fear.
God has a plan for us all, and it begins with hope in our hearts this day.
Matthew Gambino is editor of CatholicPhilly.com.
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