by Fr. Randy Roche, SJ
New Year’s celebrations vary according to local customs throughout the world, seemingly in hopes that all will be well, or that things will be better than in the previous year. But hope does not depend upon customs and traditions as somehow bringing about good health, prosperity, peace or any other personal or communal benefit. Each of us is wholly responsible for our exercise of the spiritual attribute that we call hope, a practice that is suggested and encouraged by some of our religious and secular ceremonies.
Whether the New Year or some new circumstances provide the occasion for us to trust that we will be better off, it is certainly not the change of date that will be the true cause of whatever happens. Rather, we are responsible for our decisions in responding to the realities about us, including those about the passage of time and the particular occasions that mark the linear course of days, months and years. Hope is the essential contribution we make to our decision-making that enables us to go forward in our lives, rather than to remain where we are. When we do not exercise hope, we tend to take no risks, and either to make an attempt at keeping everything as it is, or even to try going back to how things were in the past. Acting without hope is as impractical as wearing summer clothing when the winter weather is at its coldest.
Hope supports taking chances, not like that of irrational gambling, but by consideration of reasonable possibilities based on our experiences of trust/faith. Hope, a spiritual movement, is open to a larger context than immediate observable results, and is open to new opportunities that were not a conscious part of the decision-making process. When we hope, we implicitly trust that, for all that is wrong in the world, goodness prevails and is within all that happens. Terrible things do take place, but we who opt for hope rather than despair always come out better as whole persons because we choose to live in reality, not in fantasy or denial. By looking for, and expecting a blessing, we receive it. If we expect nothing, we will not even have the experience of gratitude if things actually turn out well.
Hope is always new, because it is not a rule and is not measurable like the passage of time. Hope is a positive attitude and also a gift. As with all gifts, it is only ours if we accept it; and it becomes fully ours when we exercise it. If we are given a Christmas gift which we never use, we have perhaps received it physically, but have not made it our own in any human fashion. Hope is meant to be the salt and pepper of decision-making, used often as a seasoning to our decision-making.
There are no restrictions to hope, as we take into consideration all the factors that enable us to make decisions that are, every day, new.
Father Randy Roche, SJ, Director of the Center for Ignatian Spirituality, has an M.A. in Theology from Santa Clara University, and an M.S. in Counseling from San Diego State. He has served as LMU Director of Campus Ministry, Rector of the Jesuit Community at Jesuit High School in Sacramento, Director of Studies and Spiritual Director at the Jesuit Novitiate, and as Pastor, Superior, and Director of Diocesan Campus Ministry at the Newman Center in Honolulu.
Throughout his years of ministry, he has continuously deepened his own experience of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, while also acting as a guide in the Exercises for lay people and religious. Not surprisingly, his specialty is Ignatian spirituality as a tool for discernment in decision-making.