Holding onto hope in troubled times

Pulling into the post office parking lot as I came off of retreat, I stopped for a moment in the car. I thought to myself, The flags are at half-staff again.

And for a moment, I couldn't remember why.

A laundry list of places streamed through my mind: Baton Rouge, the Twin Cities, Orlando, Nice, Dallas, Baton Rouge (again), Istanbul . . .

The names spun round and round in my head, and yet, I guiltily admitted to myself, I couldn't place the reason why the flags in front of me hung in mourning. At some point, I had to turn the news off; I had unplugged in exchange for my sanity and my soul.

Hope, it seemed, needed help floating. Perhaps that's what we all need in the darkest of times: flotation devices.

As the new year began in 2014, Pope Francis departed from his prepared remarks about creating community and ending violence in the world to ask, "What is happening in the heart of humanity?"

Without missing a beat, he answered that question with a simple imperative statement: "It is time to stop."

As the 24-hour news cycle continues and reports of violence flourish, it's hard to imagine that stopping is an option. How do you possibly counteract hate? How do you stop violence? How do you heal the heart of humanity?

Faith, hope and love: These are the only viable answers. These are the virtues that dive deep into the heart of God and draw directly from the one who made us. Love may be the greatest of all these virtues, but truly, no one virtue can exist without the others. Love begets faith, which begets hope, and vice versa.

We love because God first loved us. We believe because love has been revealed to us in one way or another. And we have hope because current and past experiences of faith and love inherently foster a future full of hope. In the simplest terms, the heart of humanity is found in faith, hope and love. If we believe that, then anything — even stopping the current cycle of tragedy and violence is a possibility.

That's all I could think of as I watched individuals join hands along the length of Hope Memorial Bridge in Cleveland on the eve of the Republican National Convention this past weekend. They came together to "Circle the City with Love," a founding principle of the Sisters of St. Joseph, who organized the event.

There, on that bridge, thousands of people stood in silence for 30 minutes to witness to the power of love. In the process, they gave a glimmer of hope by not only showing the love present in their city, but by revealing love at the heart of humanity. They stopped and, for a moment, the heart of humanity beat brighter.

In much the same way, NETWORK's Nuns on the Bus have been traversing the country since July 11, speaking to the ways we must mend the gaps in our society. Each stop of the bus offers another moment of healing, a pause for grace, for faith, for hope, and for love to enter the world. The stories shared at each stop are glimpses into the shared humanity we hold. Together, we can overcome hatred and apathy; we can grow in awareness and foster community. The first step, though, is to see the gap so we can mend it.

Those gaps can be anywhere: in our social service systems and our everyday relationships with one another, in the divides we realize and in those we have yet to become fully aware of. The recognition that these divisions exist is the first step of many to creating union in our world.

Seeking such unity moves far beyond this moment in time and recent "newsworthy" events. It calls us to recognize the many injustices that exist in the world, to bring hope and change beyond the headlines. It challenges me to recognize my role in labor trafficking, to face the fact that my food might not be fairly produced, and to call upon myself and the corporations I patronize to embrace just labor practices. It means praying for peace personally and with others. It means joining the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in a national boycott of Wendy's restaurants, calling elected officials about immigration reform, and working to minimize my carbon footprint in all areas of my life.

And in all of these actions, hope is alive, working toward a better tomorrow by believing in and loving today.

Perhaps that is the greatest challenge: keeping hope alive in the small things so that no matter how daunting a moment seems, the darkness can never overtake the light.

Hope, then, floats above tragedy, above violence, and above grief and mourning. Hope sustains us and allows us to see more clearly, no matter how blurry the signs of the times might seem. When read with eyes of hope, faith and love, the signs of the times can be transformed from tragically daunting to utterly inspiring.

The inspiration they offer is a call to action. They remind us that no issue is lesser, no matter less pressing than any other. Our heart responds in union with the heart of humanity. We answer justice's continual call in love and out of a place of faith, knowing that faith in the future is, quite simply, hope.

If we can keep that hope before our eyes, we will see clearly. Our hearts will still ache, and rightfully so, at the sight of flags at half-staff. But we will remember that we have a role to play in healing the heart of humanity, a part to play in the life of faith, hope and love alive in this world holding hope high, grounding ourselves and at the same time becoming flotation devices in a world that can feel like it's drowning us.

[Colleen Gibson is a Sister of St. Joseph of Philadelphia. Author of the blog Wandering in Wonder, she currently serves as assistant director of campus ministry at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia.]