When I was a kid, Doris Day’s song Que Sera, Sera was quite popular. In the song, the singer asks her mother about the future (“Will I be pretty?; Will I be rich?”), and her mother answers, “Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be; the future’s not ours to see; que sera, sera; what will be, will be.” (Can you hear it in your head? I can; I can remember my mother singing it at home in a very 1950s vignette!) I have sometimes pondered those lyrics. While they might encourage a stance of openness and receptivity to what will be, and an unnecessary need to control everything, in some ways they also seem to be quite fatalistic; it is all out of our hands; whatever will be, will be, good or bad. You can’t make a difference one way or the other.
Somehow I don’t think it is quite that defeatist. Though obviously much is beyond our control, and mysterious and sometimes bad things do happen without our knowing why, I also think that we can contribute to shaping and creating the future. This is especially for people who cooperate with God’s grace. We have a future full of hope, as Jeremiah recognizes: For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. (Jer 29:11)
A future full of hope is a special gift to those with Easter faith. Peter says it well in his first letter: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” It is Easter that really explains why we are people with a living, vibrant hope! Easter causes hope to be born and live in us. So happy birthday to you – and the hope that lives in you – this Easter!
Years ago I read a book by John Allen: The Future Church: How Ten Trends are Revolutionizing the Catholic Church (Doubleday, 2009). In the book, he identifies what he senses to be the most important currents shaping the Church, and based on his experience as a journalist, tries to look down the line at how they might play out during the rest of the 21st century. In each chapter, Allen first identifies what the trend is (“what’s happening?”) and then tries to suggest “what it means” by identifying “near-certain consequences,” then “probable consequences” and finally “possible consequences,” with each section carrying a little less certitude.
I found this to be fascinating, so much so that I bought a copy for each man in our initial formation program, to give them something to chew on as they thought about a future with the friars. I would encourage you to read it. It is fascinating to think about what the contours of the 21st century might look like in the Church and even in secular society. Where is it all going? What will be? As we look into our personal crystal balls, we may feel fear or we may feel hope. I personally think hope is quite in order, especially as we celebrate Easter and think about the certain consequences of Jesus raised from the dead.
I always thought it somewhat fortuitous and even visionary that we SJB friars chose to entitle our mission statement “Facing Our Future With Hope.” It says to us, “This is how we see ourselves, and how we want to be.” All of us should hold ourselves to that, especially when we might be tempted to doubt it. We want to be people of hope; hope should be in our collective DNA, in our make-up.
I do realize that this can sound a bit Pollyanna-ish in view of the many difficulties we experience personally and as a Church. I also experience what John Allen wrote at the end of his book after looking at all that is happening in the current Church: “The raw truth is that Catholicism is enormously complex, often enormously ambivalent, and much of the time it lifts your soul and breaks your heart in roughly equal measures. Faith in the Church has never meant believing it does everything right; it means never abandoning hope despite all the things it does wrong. Today, as always, there is a basis for hope, regardless of the content of our desires, if we have eyes to see – and if we’re willing to accept that satisfying half a desire is better than none.”
As we move into the future of our Church in the 21st century, as we make the little and big decisions that are part of our everyday lives, it is my hope that friars will actively contribute our charism to the emerging Church; I hope we will shape the future with our missionary and fraternal charism.
I think the Franciscan charism can offer hope to our Church and our world. I know we can make a difference, just as those who have gone before us have. I hope we can exude a sense of joy and confidence in God’s great mercy and grace which the resurrection reveals.
(Fr. Jeff Scheeler is pastor of Transfiguration Parish in Southfield, Mich.)