Sitting at the dinner table with my children, 6 and 8, we talk about school, games, friends and books. Recently, the conversation focused on the new year.
My daughter asked, “What does it mean to start a new year?” My son quickly replied that a new year is an opportunity to hope and dream, a chance to be better. I bet he heard that from one of his teachers at the Catholic school they attend.
“What’s hope?” my daughter asked. As a theologian, I felt that this was my opportunity to teach my children a lesson, perhaps drawing from what I teach my graduate students and some of the great minds who have written about the topic.
My son beat me again. “Well … hope is when you know that the world can be better for you and others. Even when things are bad, it doesn’t have to be that way. I want to live more than 100 years to make the world better,” he said.
Perfect! He captured the essence of Christian hope in simple, yet profound words. After listening, my daughter responded, “Me too! I want to live more than 100 years to make the world better.”
In the simple words of a child, I hear loud echoes of three core Christian convictions that are worth remembering as we start a new year.
One, there is always room for a bright tomorrow. This is what God revealed in Jesus Christ. Death does not have the last word; evil will be unmasked; despair is the lot of those unable to acknowledge that truth and justice in the end will shine.
Two, sin is not the status quo of human existence. We were not created to live in a world of lies, or crass materialism, or subsumed in ideologies that make us less human. When confronting the suffering of our neighbor, especially those most vulnerable, we must not remain unmoved.
Three, we all have a shared responsibility to make the world a good place for us and for others. Knowing ourselves part of a larger whole is the antidote to greedy individualism that ignores the cries of others and the cries of the created order being pillaged for immediate gain while risking the future of the next generations.
After the conversation with my children, I browse the news. The United States of America begins the year 2020 in pain: a sadly divided society that seems to have lost its sense of the common good; an impeached president; institutions losing credibility; callous leaders legislating, almost with impunity and under the guise of democracy, against the good of groups and communities they are supposed to serve; children in prisons that make a few rich; the poor losing the few social benefits that make their lives bearable; new revelations of sexual abuse of children by clergy and the mismanagement associated with them, etc.
I stop. What I hear at the dinner table does not match what I read in the news. Are these alternative universes? Perhaps this is what Christian hope is all about. An alternative. God’s alternative. Not only a possibility, but also a calling.
We need to allow ourselves as Catholics and as citizens of this nation the chance to dream with hope. Yes, dream … again … and again. We cannot stop dreaming. We must dream informed by the truth and beauty of the Gospel. We may need to follow our children’s lead.
Because hope is contagious, I want to dream with my children and say, “Me too! I want to live more than 100 years to make the world better.” Happy 2020.
Hosffman Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.