Welcome to the Festival of Hope: An Introduction

Let’s start with a news item, from less than one month ago.  The Associated Press article was headlined: “6 die in family murder-suicide in Los Angeles.” 

A successful business man who had recently fallen on hard financial times chose to take the life of his wife, his three children, and his mother-in-law, and then his own.  The man, who had no history of treatment for mental problems, left behind a suicide note saying that he’d considered killing only himself, but had decided that taking the rest of his family with him was the more honorable thing to do. 

The article in Time magazine included this:

Despite his record of success at holding executive-level jobs and making highly profitable investments, Rajaram had apparently been unable to find work. Meanwhile, he began to accumulate financial losses which took their toll on his saved-up profits. Suddenly having an M.B.A., working one’s way up in finance and using one’s business acumen to make solid investments offered little protection and security. “The essence of it was that this was a man’s emotional spiral downward due to financial difficulties. He saw it as a tragedy, a disaster that had befallen him. He lost perspective,” said the LAPD’s Moore. “He thought his life circumstances were because he was a failure. He got caught up in a rabbit hole, apart from reality.”

By wiping out his family, Rajaram also wiped out the seemingly bright future of his children. “His family was healthy, his son [Krishna] was on a Fulbright scholarship at UCLA, his 7-year-old was at a magnet elementary school, a high-performing student, as was his 12-year-old,” Moore said. He described their home as “organized and nicely adorned” with drawings by the children and photos of a smiling family. In short, there was nothing to suggest the violence that ended the suburban idyll.

The same Officer Moore is quoted in the AP article as saying Mr. Rajaram was stuck in “absolute despair.”

Please know that I’m treading carefully here.  I know that many good people have found themselves in that same black “rabbit hole” (to use Officer Moore’s words) that made suicide seem like the only choice.  Sadly, while I’ve been planning for several weeks to open this month-long Festival of Hope by noting this tragic event, suicide has touched my own extended family just this week.

My intention is not to begin on a depressingly negative note, but to emphasize that to speak of hope is no theoretical, irrelevant, or naively devotional matter.  Rather, hope has a crucial and fundamental meaning and consequences in our daily and very real lives.  And so does its absence, despair.

When Pope Benedict chose to write his encyclical Spe Salvi, on Christian hope, published just over 11 months ago now, he did not do it because he needed some busy-work to fill his free time.  He didn’t pluck some softball topic from the Catechism with which he could flex his theological muscles in order to impress the theologians and catechists of the world.  He chose it, surely, because he sees that people today need to be reminded of this virtue that is so fundamental to living a good, happy, productive, and meaningful life.  He chose it because it is a cornerstone of the Good News that the Church bears to the world.

Indeed, the one question that the Pope insists on pressing continually with each passing page of Spe Salvi is this: Can it change our lives?  What difference does it make?  “Is the Christian faith for us today a life-changing and life-sustaining hope?” (no.  10).

These are the questions we will be exploring here at The Tail End over the next month.  I say “we” because I’m not going to be doing it alone. 

First of all, I’m going to take Pope Benedict as a primary guide.  His Spe Salvi is truly a remarkable work of theology, spirituality, and real life application of basic Christian truths.  Preparing my study guide to this encyclical — pouring over Benedict’s words, studying them, reflecting on them, researching the background and developing illustrations to unpack his teaching — was one of the most worthwhile and enriching experiences I have had throughout my nine years of professional Catholic freelance writing.

But as you may already know, I’ve also enlisted the help of several other writers, who have contributed reflections of their own on the theme of hope.  I think you’re going to find them very worthwhile.

So welcome to the Festival of Hope.  Let’s conclude this introduction to our month with a prayer to the Holy Spirit, for hope is a gift of the Spirit.

Come, Holy Spirit. 

Enlighten my mind and fill my heart with a hope that is sure and strong. 

Make me ever more receptive to this virtue which you offer me.  Draw me closer into union with Christ, the One who has overcome the world, and allow this hope to permeate my every thought, action, decision, relationship, and prayer. 

I pray in a special way today for those who feel they are without hope.  Heal their hearts, Spirit of Hope, and open them even now to receive the gifts you have to offer. 

Come, Holy Spirit!

Mary, Mother of Hope, pray for us!

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One Response to “Welcome to the Festival of Hope: An Introduction”

  1. Nancy C. Brown Says:

    Barry,
    Wonderful introduction, but such a tragic story, and I’m so sorry to hear that suicide has touched your family. Our family will be praying for yours.

    I am looking forward to reading the reflections each day. Thanks.

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