I read something attributed to Oscar Hammerstein II that I have found profound and inspiring — profound enough to get my attention and inspiring enough to motivate me to write these columns. He said, “It is a modern tragedy that despair has many spokesmen, and hope so few.”
I have tried my best to be a voice for hope in the nearly 13 years of writing my weekly column, An Encouraging Word.
In fact, there is no other reason, as far as I am concerned, for me to write, to preach and to do public speaking, except to be a voice that encourages and celebrates, rather than some kind of clerical cat that “mouses for vermin,” that is always finding fault and looking for something to condemn.
There are those who would label my emphasis on God’s unconditional love as Pollyanna-ish, preferring that I “open my eyes” to the realities of sin.
In defense, I like to think that I neither live in “la-la land” nor the “land of the doom,” but in the land of “both/and.” Dale Carnegie said, “Two men looked out from prison bars, one saw the mud, the other saw stars.” I look out and see both!
I can appreciate the looks of a tree in winter, as well as in summer. I can appreciate things visible, as well as things invisible. I can appreciate the contributions of science, as well as those of religion. I can see the glass as half full and half empty — both at the same time. I can appreciate more than one perspective without having to choose. I will not join extremists at either end of the spectrum.
This, after all, is what I think a priest is all about in the long run — being a bridge between two worlds: hope and despair, belief and unbelief, this world and the next, God and man, the past and the future without having to deny the existence of one or the other. With his eyes wide open, a priest worth his salt is a specialist in giving people reasons for hope — at least in my book.
Some words from journalist Charles Kuralt from several years ago came to mind while I was writing this column. He said, “It does no harm once in a while to acknowledge that the whole country isn’t in flames, that there are people in this country besides politicians, entertainers and criminals.”
“It is a modern tragedy that despair has many spokesmen, and hope so few.” Maybe that is why so many respond so well to Pope Francis. In a church known for its focus on sin and a culture for its obsession with death, he is a convincing spokesman for hope, reminding us that it’s still more powerful than despair.
Father J. Ronald Knott