Brendan Hoban: Hope is essential in these troubles times

Hope is essential in these troubles times

Western People 5.4.2022

Security is always a difficult sweet to suck on, even though most of us spend most of our lives doing just that. We long for certainty, wanting to nail down a secure future. Putting together the jig-saw pieces of  worldly wisdom that we believe make a secure and settled life. Establishing a firm structure that has certainty knitted into its seams.

But then we discover, in part or in full, that there’s no such thing as certainty – at least not in the way we usually understand it as something solid and unchanging. Because everything changes. Things fall apart because the centre doesn’t always hold. The only real certainty is that there’s no certainty.

The reality of life’s uncertainty often comes into focus as we find ourselves waiting in a hospital corridor for news of a loved one. Or a relationship that seemed as solid as a proverbial rock suddenly seems unaccountably fragile. Or we take a bend in the road and something has changed forever.

The truth is that nothing in life is secure and we all eventually learn that difficult truth, even if we have to wait to be convinced by what the novelist, Philip Roth, called ‘the steady encroachments of old age’.

The Celtic Tiger of recent memory brought us down a cul-de-sac we couldn’t wait to explore. Suddenly, it seemed everything was possible. Everyone was going to be a millionaire, own a holiday home in Bulgaria and live happily ever after. But the bubble burst and we had to recalibrate our opinions and our lives.

The feel-good factor where everything was positive suddenly turned into a feel-bad factor where almost everything was negative and our reservoirs of hope were in danger of disappearing down the tube. But, we reminded ourselves that, while we can live without faith and love, we can’t survive without hope and we clung to hope as gradually and almost imperceptively, sadder but wiser, we faced the reality of not presuming or expecting certainty. While we suspected that we were tempted by the fantasy of certainty, we had learned that holding on to hope was the road to better days.

Once the storms in the wake of the Celtic Tiger had subsided, a certain normality ensued even though other storms with strange names like Ophelia began gathering, threatening our calm and forcing us to look at a new urgent reality called ‘climate change’. Another challenge on the horizon we could have done without.

Little did we know what else faced us. Soon a strange man called Boris Johnson, flipped a coin and decided that the best road to a political career was to fuel the United Kingdom’s resentment at its descent in the world by blaming the EU. And Brexit was born.

And then, just when we thought that we were in sight of land again, COVID-19 arrived by way of Wuhan in China to create a pandemic that is still causing havoc to life, to health, to our economy and to the casual normalities that, in our wildest dreams, we never thought any disaster could possibly compromise.

Yet, despite it all, just some weeks ago, we thought we had sighted land again. After two years of restrictions, over 6,000 deaths, persistent health issues, relentless directions about social distancing, wearing masks, cocooning and all the rest of it, suddenly the authorities presented us with a clean bill of health – with the easing of all significant restrictions. We were home and dry. Or so we thought.

But two years on a small, dull, autocratic  man from Russia decided that he wanted to claim his place in history by invading his neighbour Ukraine and attempting to destroy whatever life and limb came in his way. Millions of Ukrainians became refugees; 100,000 of them are heading for Ireland; and the fall-out for the Irish economy – in terms of catering for them and the implications of the invasion – have not been, as yet, enumerated.

We are, after a litany of unanticipated reversals and challenges, now in a strange place. It is as if we don’t know quite where we are or even what’s happening or what we might expect next. What next we wonder? The Brexit fiasco, climate change, the Covid pandemic, the invasion of Ukraine. What else could possibly happen?

We have been to Gethsemane and back and even though we have the experience of dealing with a mountain of fear and dread and their many children, in terms of hope we seem to be almost running on empty. While, despite it all, strangely our economy (we’re told) is buoyant and the huge borrowings of recent years are sustainable in the long term, steady diminishments in terms of confidence, resilience and mental health have taken their toll.

Moving from a need for certainty to an acceptance of uncertainty is part of the road we may now need to travel. In these troubled times, when we begin to ponder who we are and what it all means we are in a place where faith and love are an advantage but where hope is essential.

We have been to Calvary and back and in a week or two we will be closing in on Calvary again, a place which in memory and in ritual we will be revisiting in Holy  Week, the great feast of hope. We will again remember the Simons and the Veronicas who helped Jesus along the road. We will again relive the light of Easter raising the siege that darkness has brought to our doors. It is where all that Jesus is and where all he said is validated. It is where faith finds a focus and where love finds due expression but especially where hope carries us through the fears and anxieties of our time. At this time Easter joy may be our only real hope of certainty.

Christ has died! Christ is risen! Christ will come again!


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One Comment

  1. Brendan Hoban: Hope is essential in these troubles times

    Who remembers how secure we all felt in the 1960s, even after the Cuba crisis – in the belief that at least the horrors of World War II could never be forgotten or repeated? My own optimism lasted for just four years after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 – when a Russian guy called Zhirinovsky began mouthing the fascist nonsense about Russia’s destiny that Putin is now master of.

    Soon after, the Brendan Smyth revelations began blowing the roof off the Irish church and climate disaster became a likely prospect.

    It’s time that original sin was re-understood as a tendency to rely on temporary ‘fixes’ to the problem of uncertainty – ‘success’, wealth, fame, power, ideology – whatever seems to ‘do it’ for those apparently happier than ourselves – distracting us from the Great Commandments. We build these houses of sand, year after year … until the sand runs totally out.

    Zhirinovsky died April 6th, 2022. Yet Easter’s coming, for all of the poor in spirit! And might shall never be right!

    Good one, Brendan – keep ’em coming!

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