After receiving and accepting the invitation to offer some reflections on hope as we celebrate 25 years as Dominican Sisters of Hope, I find myself drawn to a more personal rather than theological approach. I think that’s because I realize that I have found my own hope, as well as my faith, to be grounded, sustained and strengthened, not by thinking and studying, but in relationships. Faith, hope and love, like the divine Trinity, are inextricably bound as one in a relationship of love. And as someone who has struggled throughout my life with faith and hope, it is, in the end, only love that has saved me from agnosticism and despair. I have struggled, and largely failed, to resolve the seeming contradiction (or paradox?) between a loving, all powerful Creator who nevertheless appears powerless (or even worse, indifferent) in the face of evil and terrible suffering, especially of children and good people. If even God can’t or won’t do anything about often overwhelming suffering, what is there to justify or sustain our faith and hope when we are faced with suffering and evil? And while I still have not found a fully satisfactory rational answer (and probably never will), I have been gifted with an insight that has enabled me to approach these questions, as well as all of created reality and all of life differently – and invited me to a very different or expanded understanding of my call to witness to hope.
I’ve come to recognize two things that have been critical to my faith journey. The first is having been gifted with numerous loving, faith-filled people (including many of you – community members, friends, and family), who have walked with and supported me lovingly in times of darkness, without criticism or judgment. The very God whose existence I have often questioned, I now realize has always been tangibly and visibly present to me, supporting, comforting and loving me in so many people, even though at the time I was mostly unaware of it. The second thing, which I knew at a profound level as a child (“Unless you become as a little child…”) and finally rediscovered in my “wisdom” years, is the awesome mystery at the root of everything that exists from the workings of the cosmos, to the infinite variety and beauty found in nature, to the amazing complexity and wonder of the human brain, to the life in the tiniest, most insignificant insect. And apart from some inexplicable ‘big bang’, we have no real knowledge or understanding of how or why anything exists as it is. So if I cannot understand or explain even these finite created mysteries, why would I expect to understand the Ultimate Source of all that exists – which was God’s question to Job in the face of his angry doubts?
But the most important insight I received was the realization that the greatest mystery of all is what we call love. We talk about love as though we understand exactly what it is, when in fact I believe it is the most mysterious reality of all. It is found everywhere in the universe. It manifests itself in an infinite variety of forms, as Paul attests to in his description of loves’ manifestations in his letter to the Corinthians, and it is encountered in the most unexpected places. Love heals, brings joy, and renews life. It brings people together, and motivates people to serve others and perform heroic deeds, even to the laying down of one’s life. We have all experienced love in a myriad of ways throughout our lives. We recognize it, and can describe it – but can’t define or control it. We can lose it, reject it, deny it, betray it, but never destroy it. More than anything else, it gives meaning to life. John the Evangelist gives this mystery we call “love” a personal name: God. He claims that “God is Love.” He doesn’t say God loves. He says God IS love.
And that brings me back to faith and hope. Love – the ultimate, ever-present, indestructible mystery; the source, center and sustainer of all that is, provides the only reasonable and certain guarantee that suffering and evil will not have the last word. It doesn’t provide an explanation or answer to suffering and death. But, when all else fails, love alone provides me with a reason to risk hope … the hope that this Mystery, ever present since before the beginning of time, is trustworthy and will ultimately prevail over all evil and suffering and bring us to fullness of life. Our charism, our call as Dominicans of Hope, is not only to try to bring hope by witnessing to love by our words and deeds, as important as these are. Rather, we are called to BE that Love to and for one another, i.e. to be God, incarnate and visible in us, enabling God to be present to and among us in a profoundly personal way. And the wonderful thing is that age is irrelevant to our engagement in this ministry of hope. We can be hope with and for one another in our 80’s or 90’s as well as we can in our 30’s and 40’s – indeed, perhaps even better! It may well be that rather than diminishing, the charism of hope to which we are called actually deepens and becomes more vibrant and visible with age, as we ourselves grow into fuller and deeper oneness with God. So I’d like to take this opportunity to thank, from the bottom of my heart, all of you who have strengthened my hope by being God’s embodied love in my life. I celebrate this community of Hope that has been my anchor, support, inspiration and joy my entire adult life.
At 3 pm on July 20, 1995 the Dominican Sisters of Hope were founded. On July 20, 2019, we began our 25th year since our founding. We declare a YEAR OF HOPE! In celebration, we will share a reflection on the 20th of every month. This is the seventh reflection in this series. Read all reflections here.
This reflection was written by
Dominican Sister of Hope Mary Schneiders, OP
Sister Mary has taught in NJ, NY, CT, and Puerto Rico. Following full-time study, Sister Mary was an assistant professor at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh. For over twenty years, she served in spiritual and renewal ministry at BERAKAH in Pittsfield, New Hampshire.