Like every virtue, hope is a grace and also a habit, but unique to hope is that its practice may be described as diving into the mercy of God.
My previous monthly column for Catholic Stand was six-months ago on May 23, 2019. The reason for delaying a subsequent monthly column until November 2019 was that my 93-year-old mother had just been hospitalized that spring in the ICU. She had an advanced case of pneumonia and she was not expected to live long. If there was to be a funeral, I would have to fly 12,000 miles from Hawaii to the East Coast and back with at least three full days away from my sick wife, for whom I am caring.
This set off a sudden series of debilitating panic attacks for me, during which I found it hard to even function. Readers of Catholic Stand will be aware that I suffer depression for which I take medication.
In spite of her age, (and my own age of 67) I was simply not ready for my mother to die, particularly at that point in my life. Yet, the virtue of hope is focused on final perseverance for ourselves and others, especially our loved ones. Interestingly, she reported to me that she, herself, was ready to die.
My Grandchildren Appear to Increase My Difficulty
I had agreed to watch three of my youngest grandchildren for the first part of the summer. I hoped being with the kids would take my mind off my worries about my mother. Instead, it greatly compounded them. I was impatient and frustrated significantly more than usual with my grandchildren.
I requested time off from writing my column and also from performing some diaconal responsibilities. I even asked my children to give me a break from babysitting.
My depression grew worse. I changed my anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medicines several times with my psychiatrist.
It got so bad that I almost stopped preaching during this period, which probably would have been the worst thing I could have done. For me, preaching is one of my deepest joys, as I seem to experience the Most Holy Trinity guiding me through my worst difficulties, and what best to share of those difficulties with the congregants. I find that many people who hear my homilies can identify with my experiences. Sharing these intimate moments with parishioners in the context of the Sunday readings also helps me to see God working in my life – a spiritual and therapeutic win-win!
I went back into therapy for several weeks, trying to identify and defuse the trauma that frequently precipitates my anxiety and depression.
I had a few brief respites. I am still struggling.
My Grandchildren Show Me the Way
But my biggest insight and relief so far was when I went swimming at the public pool with my grandchildren. It was a chilly day in Hawaii and I was quite cold. I watched one of my 8-year-old grandsons jump without any hesitation off the diving board. He beckoned for me to follow him. I did not want to go in the water at all, but I discovered that if I did not worry about it, I would be alright. So I walked to the diving board and jumped in.
The water was cold, just like I expected, but I swam to the edge of the pool and went off the diving board again and again. I just could not let myself dwell on it.
I realized then that this was my model for practicing the virtue of hope, diving into the mercy of God. This was the answer to what I was experiencing in my panic and trauma about my mother and the other life-issues that had surfaced this past summer. I decided that diving into the mercy of God was how I should envision difficulties the rest of my life. Especially this is how I should approach giving homilies. If God wanted me to jump, I would jump. If to preach, He would give me the words to use.
“Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute” (Luke 21:14-15).
And the following Sunday that’s exactly what I did. I did not get too anxious or worried about my homily, and spoke directly from my heart.
I still get anxious and experience trauma and take my meds, but I can now see how God can use my illness to show me how to trust Him more, and to grow more deeply into my relationship with God.
It’s floating in the pool, once one dives in with the grace of hope.