Finding Hope in Difficult Times

Blessings on you as we begin a new year! As you read this, we will have left behind a year that had its share of difficulty. Certainly, the terrible shootings in Lewiston resulting in the loss of 18 lives have been uppermost in our minds. The initial shock we experienced has lessened, but the realization of the painful loss of life continues with us. Our prayers persist for all those impacted by this terrible act of violence. 

In the first moments after that tragedy, I encouraged you to reflect on the hope that is ours, even in difficult times. We believe that our God does not abandon us. Particularly in this Christmas season, we recall the name of Jesus. He is Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” And, as we begin a new year, looking forward in hope, we might recall some of the ways in which God’s love manifested itself through the darkness of the tragedy of those last days of October 2023 and be grateful.

We would begin with gratitude for the incredible dedication of health workers and public safety personnel. Hearing of the swiftness with which health workers volunteered for extra duty when the hospitals became overwhelmed with injured patients reminds us of the dedicated care they give. Recalling that the shooter was not found for two days after the attacks reminds us of the danger within which our law enforcement and public safety workers operate each day, keeping us safe and free of harm. We are blessed by the professionalism of all these people. We recall gratefully the many people and organizations as well who collected money for the victims of these tragedies so that the unexpected expenses accrued would not cripple those trying to recover from their effects. We can also be grateful for the generous presence of our hospital chaplains and the priests and staffs of the parishes in Lewiston and Auburn, who kept in touch with their people in lockdown and, by their pastoral care, showed that we are strengthened by our faith as it draws us together in community. Each of these people acted out of love as they tried to help others through a tragic time.

God is love. That is His name. A few weeks ago, at Mass, we read the story in the Gospel of the 10 lepers. You will remember that these 10, having asked Jesus to heal them, were all healed. Only one, a Samaritan, returned to thank Jesus. This one was exuberant in his thanks and praise and recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus asked him about the other nine. Why did they not return to give thanks?  Now, we all like to be thanked when we do something for someone else, but it would be a mistake for us to think that was why Jesus was disappointed that the other nine had not returned. I say that because, as the Gospel continues, Jesus praised the faith of the one who did return. He tells him he is not only healed, but he is saved. Jesus is disappointed because the other nine only received a part of what He had for them. They were physically healed, but their spiritual lives were not changed. They lacked gratitude.

The ability to be thankful is, in fact, the foundation of faith. The Samaritan, the one who returned praising Jesus, acknowledged that God was working through Jesus. And, in his own praise of Jesus, he accepts that his healing is God’s gift. The Samaritan thanked Jesus as the one who saved him. To thank God is to acknowledge that all I am and have is from God’s love. That is why gratitude is the foundation of faith. To be grateful is a recognition that I have not been the one who has brought about this good thing in my life. 

As we think about that, we come to acknowledge that we are created beings. We have been created by a loving God. Often, God’s love is manifested in the goodness and kindness that others show to us. As we look back on this tragedy in Lewiston, we can certainly see the good so many people brought to a bad time. Being grateful for their generosity strengthens our faith and nurtures our hope. God’s love is indeed with us.

As we begin this new year, there is an important lesson here for us. Being thankful, acknowledging our dependence on God and one another, strengthens us in faith. It helps us to realize who we are and what we are called to be. Being thankful helps us to see a need to learn to live with each other and to appreciate the goodness of one another. To be grateful also motivates us to share what we have so that others, too, can be thankful. Would our world not be a better place if we realized that we depend on each other?  It would assist us in appreciating our common humanity and motivate us to seek ways to help one another. 

Let gratitude, then, be a virtue we work on through this new year. We have much to be thankful for. We just need to pay closer attention to what people around us are doing. 

Happy New Year!