There are some priests who should never be priests. There are some doctors who should never be doctors. I say this not because these priests and these doctors are not smart enough to do their work. I say this because they are lacking in hope.
I few years ago a very good friend of mine developed a high fever while she was on chemotherapy. A very bright, young resident doctor came into her hospital room and examined her. Then in a disdainful voice along with a snobbish face he declared: “You’re infected!”
My good friend felt badly when she first came into the hospital, but now she felt a whole lot worse. A little later her primary physician stopped by to see her and declared in the most positive sounding voice: “Why Claudette, I am truly impressed with the level of your toxicity!” My friend’s primary doctor is not only a respected oncologist, but a man who gives hope to his patients.
When I later shared this story with a small group of my priest friends, one of them remarked: “But are you sure he’s not giving her false hope?” I replied, “At this stage of her life, Claudette said she would rather have false hope than no hope at all.”
In the famous passage in the letter from St. Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 13, he says, “There are three things that last forever: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” This is true, but the most neglected virtue is hope. Not only are priests and physicians sometimes lacking in hope, but others who serve us often lack hope as well: parents, teachers, and community leaders.
We hear the Parable of the Fig Tree in today’s Gospel (Luke 13:1-9). Those of us who are waiting for our little fruitless fig trees to grow need to hear voices of hope here.
Hope is a Christian virtue that needs to be nurtured in each one of us. Hope is not a dream, but a way of making dreams become reality.
In Luke’s parable today, it is not a poet, a physician or a priest who offers hope, but a gardener. It is the vocation of a gardener to give people hope – to wait for the harvest, to know that even beneath the winter snow lies the seed that in the springtime becomes the rose as the Bette Midler song says.
The owner of the fig tree has given up. He is like a friend of mine who has convinced herself that she doesn’t have a “green thumb”. I think the “green thumb” theory is a myth. My friend doesn’t need a “green thumb”, she needs a gardener with hope.
When I reflected and prayed over today’s Gospel story, I noticed something wonderfully hopeful. The gardener prays for restraint and offers a prescription of hope. “Sir, leave it for this year also and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it. It may bear fruit in the future.”
And then the gardener says something quite startling, “If not, you can cut it down.” So even if the fig tree does not bear fruit, the gardener will have nothing to do with destroying it himself. This respectful gardener tells the owner to cut it down. People of hope are like that.
Several years ago a teacher was assigned to visit children at a large city hospital. She was asked to visit a particular child in the burn unit. His regular classroom teacher told her that his class was studying nouns and adverbs and she didn’t want him to fall behind.
When the visiting teacher arrived at the burn unit, she found the boy badly burned and in great pain. She felt that she couldn’t just turn and walk away, so she stammered and said, “I’m the hospital teacher and your regular teacher sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs.”
The next morning a nurse asked the teacher, “What did you do to that boy?” Before she could off an apology, the nurse continued, “You don’t understand. We’ve been so worried about him. But since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back and responding to treatment. It’s seems he’s decided that he wants to live.”
The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw the visiting teacher. He came to the simple realization and said: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?“
The most important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all.
HOPE is the little voice you hear whisper “maybe” when it seems the entire world is shouting “NO!”