During these first weeks of the year 2021, I have spent a significant amount of time in conversation with colleagues, students, family and friends. We talk work, life, our children, politics, the pandemic, our woes, our joys and our hopes, among other things.
I can tell that many of them feel exhausted by how they look and sound. Although I tend to be upbeat, I feel my own share of exhaustion. The start of a year is supposed to signal fresh beginnings and instill some new energy, yet millions and millions of people in our nation are simply exhausted.
The feeling is justifiable. We cannot hide the effects of the tumultuous year 2020 in our lives. We are still in the midst of a pandemic that seems relentless. Even with the excellent news of having several vaccines available, each day we learn about more infections and more deaths; then new waves and new strains of the virus.
Our current political climate is perplexing and, frankly, disappointing. Since its inception, our nation has withstood diversity of opinions and divisions. Fine. Yet, when those divisions become instruments to dismantle or distort the social, political and even legal principles that are supposed to make us one decent society, then we must wonder what has gone awry.
The cavalier use of racist language in public discourse, the rise of an emerging nationalism built upon anti-immigrant sentiments and the disdain for people who struggle with poverty, among other sociocultural misfits in our day, demand a communal examination of conscience.
It is here where people of faith and religious institutions could exercise much needed leadership. Yet, we cannot go to our churches as we used to since we need to adhere to important restrictions that aim at controlling the pandemic. Religious education and spiritual support efforts, even when done online, are running half steam.
Many people of faith are hurt and disconcerted, many actually disillusioned, at witnessing religious leaders from different traditions and philosophical persuasions placing politics and ideology above truth and the message of love at the heart of the Gospel. More worrisome is the irresponsible use of the Christian message and whatever standing our faith institutions may have in society to justify the unjustifiable.
Put all these together: a fierce pandemic, divisive politics, institutions threatened at their core, widespread prejudice and the manipulation of religion for ideological gain, among other challenges. It is easy, indeed, to understand why people in our society are exhausted.
Where do we go from here? The promise of new beginnings remains. Every crisis brings along its own hopes and opportunities.
As Christians, we believe that life, good, order and love prevail over death, evil, chaos and hate, respectively. We know this because God spoke decisively in Jesus Christ, and in him our sense of hope finds its foundation.
Jesus’ words resound strongly: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This is still a young year and we must remain attentive to any signs of hope before us. Pandemics come and go. Regimes rise and fall. Errors stand to be corrected.
In the midst of the widespread feelings of exhaustion, Catholics must redouble our efforts to be beacons of hope in our society. The challenges are big and complex, and they will escape any facile or simplistic response. We must try, nonetheless; and try hard.
Whether in the White House or Congress, churches or schools, offices or businesses, factories or fields, homes or the public square, this is a time for Catholics to instill hope inspired in the best of our faith.
Ospino is professor of theology and religious education at Boston College.