I first posted this over a year ago, but it feels more fitting than ever today, so I'm sharing it again.
It's an ugly world out there. I don't even have to sum up headlines for you -- you can just pick the one that depresses you the most and we'll go from there.
When all the news everywhere seems bad and the future seems precarious, what do we do? And what do we tell our children?
My instinct is to look for the good (which is kind of funny, since by nature I'm a melancholic INFJ, or, in Inside Out Speak, the character of Sadness.)
Things have always been dire. From the time Moses despaired over the ingratitude of the Israelites ("Please do me the favor of killing me at once!") to the first-pope-elect who denied Jesus not once, not twice, but three times, to the Church Militant (which has regularly fallen down on fighting the good fight), to each of us sinners in our fallen state ... the history of humanity is the history of a mess.
But kids are basically optimistic by nature and they're always looking forward to the Next Great Thing, so I like to try to help mine find it. Hope, after all, is one of the theological virtues:
"The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1818)
With that in mind, here are five steps on the road to Joy and Optimism, aka Hope:
1. Remind Yourself and Your Kids What True Joy Is
And it's not the stuff of this earth -- it's not about jobs, cars, money, success. (There is joy to be found here on earth -- witness coffee and books -- but it's not the main event.)
There will always be pain, challenges, and difficulties in this earthly life. Despite the struggles, the constant disappointments, the inevitable suffering, there is the joy that is my faith. It's something bigger than and different from happiness. It's the firm belief and the reason-defying knowledge that there's something more out there -- that He is out there -- and that everything He allows for me is meant for my good.
He is here with me. There's nothing more joy-inspiring than that sure knowledge.
2. Remind Yourself and Your Kids That Jesus Started the Church and the Holy Spirit Is Guiding It -- i.e., He's Got Things Covered
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. Matt. 16:18
Free will, by its nature, allows the existence of evil and evil choices. That has been true since Adam and Eve, and it will be true as long as time exists. There will be many crosses to bear in this life, but we can't lose sight of eternal life, our final, and ultimately our only, goal.
"Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit." (CCC 1817)
The gates of hell will not prevail.
What am I doing to help build up the Church, this incredible gift, that Christ gave me?
3. Remind Yourself and Your Kids That Prayer is the Best Reminder
"Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire." (CCC 1820)
When facing a trial, when listening to the news, when pondering evil, when healing from pain, when wondering what to do ... pray. Remind your kids to pray. Stop what you're doing and pray. Pray alone, pray with them. Remind them to pray for a strengthening of their own faith, for your family's faith and unity, for all sinners (including ourselves), for the church, for the pope, for the world.
Remind them that prayer drives away hate and strengthens love.
4. Remind Yourself and Your Kids To Be Grateful (Especially When Things Are Going Wrong.)
It's so easy to complain, and so easy to let our kids see us do it. I fail at this a lot, but when I'm being mindful, I actively search for things to be grateful for. When life is chaotic and I'm exasperated, it's helpful to seek out one tiny part of the situation that I can count as something good (or at least as something that could have been worse.)
For every time I ask Jesus, "Why do You allow ....?" He replies, "This is why, and here's why you can thank Me in the moment." Or, if He isn't making the "why" of it clear, I can still say "Thank you" anyway. He always has His reasons.
Say all of this stuff out loud to your kids.
5. Look to the Gospel
The Good News is simply, as St. Augustine said, this:
"Wake up, O man! For your sake God became man!"
When we remember that earth-shattering and humbling fact, then we can stop wringing our hands and just get to work. Do corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Love our families. Give to the poor. Learn and live our faith.
As Pope Francis said, “Everyone is invited to enter this door, to go through the door of faith, to enter into His life, and to allow Jesus into their lives, so that he may transform them, renew them, and give them full and lasting joy."
I cut her off and said, "Why are you so chipper about this? I'm so annoyed."
"Hey," she said, "You raised me. I get this from you."
Model and embrace the joy and hope and your kids -- I'm guessing from experience? -- will have no choice but to do the same.