Recently I spent a Saturday night playing a board game called Is the Pope Catholic? It’s a humorous trivia game best suited to those who grew up in pre-Vatican II Catholic schools. You know, where you’d memorize the entire Baltimore Catechism under teachers named things like Sister Michael of St. Peter. Since I’ve grown up in a Vatican II-happy bubble my entire life, I suffered a crushing loss. It’s not just my generation, either. I couldn’t name the five sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. I am a terrible Catholic, you guys, dorky board game nights notwithstanding.
Honestly, I don’t even remember the answers to most of the questions I got wrong. However, there is one that stuck with me. The question was What are the two sins against hope?
Apparently, one of them is despair and the other one is presumption.
I still don’t know the theological explanation for this. I’m sure there is one. I’ve just had those two words ringing in my head in the weeks since the game. Despair and presumption. I’ve been thinking about what they mean, not just in the context of the Catechism, but in my everyday life.
I realized I know despair pretty well. It’s that moment when I know I’m screwing up but I say to myself I give up, I’m in too deep anyway. Then I keep running my mouth or mindlessly stuffing my face or otherwise indulging the same old destructive patterns. I think despair is the root of a lot of my passive aggression, and honestly, a lot of the cynicism and snark of my entire generation. We don’t dare to hope, because secretly we’re convinced we’ll inevitably be disappointed.
Then there’s presumption. At first I wondered, How is that a sin against hope? Isn’t it an excess of hope or something? But then I realized that another way to say “presumption” is “taking things for granted.” Not realizing what enormous gifts I’ve been given, and thinking that they’ll always be mine. Forgetting to tell people I love them. Not calling or writing old friends and assuming they’ll always be there. Shortsightedly wasting my money, my time, my attention, because in my blind entitlement I think they could never run out. When I’m presumptuous, I sin against hope because I lack gratitude and I fail at seeing the big picture.
Hope often seems a fragile thing, my hold on it tenuous at best. It’s easy to get lost in the moment, see only the painful and the unfinished, and give up. When someone tells me their depression is coming back, when I realize it’s been months since I called a good friend, when old temptations suck me in like a whirlpool, it’s good at least to know the names of my enemies, despair and presumption.
Radical hope is what I’m called to cling to instead. The life of Jesus Christ, if you leave off the resurrection, was utterly hopeless, a crazy tragedy. But I believe in ludicrous hope, in taking it one step further. And it’s not enough just to believe it; like any belief, it will take on meaning only when I live it. When I encourage my depressed loved ones and pray for their healing, when I make time to pick up the phone and call friends, when I take a deep breath and summon compassion for those who push my buttons, that’s my belief and my hope in action.
Whew. There is so much to learn on this Jesus Way. When I’m done with this, I guess I’ll get to those sorrowful mysteries…
Do you place a high value on hope as a belief and as a way of living? What makes it hard for you to hope?