By Br Brian Grenier
FOR 32 years Hugo Gabriel Gryn (1930-96) was a greatly respected rabbi at the West London Synagogue.
In his memoirs he relates how in 1944, at the risk of their lives, he and his resourceful father Geza celebrated Chanukah (the Jewish eight-day winter Festival of Lights) amid the unspeakable horrors of Auschwitz.
Having fashioned a candlestick from scrap metal and a wick from threads extracted from his prison uniform, Geza managed to produce a light using some butter he had obtained from a guard.
When Hugo protested at the waste of such precious food, his father assured him that one might live for three weeks without food and for three days without water, but not even for three minutes without hope.
The hope that sustained Geza in his ordeal was not just wishful thinking or unthinking optimism.
It was at once both the gift of God and one of the most authentic ways in which a human being’s faith in God can be expressed.
It was that unshakeable trust that informs every page of the Psalter, the prayerbook of a people not unacquainted with tribulation – an expectant trust that, in the midst of his great distress, enabled Job to say: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God …” (Job 19:25-26).
Job was a man cast in the mould of his father Abraham of whom Paul wrote: “Hoping against hope, Abraham believed” (Romans 4:18).
Given the tumultuous times in which we live and the challenges confronting the contemporary Church, it is not surprising that Pope Francis speaks so frequently about hope; it is the theological virtue (the others are faith and charity) which, outside Advent, Christians tend to overlook.
The Holy Father does so in the spirit of Peter’s first letter to the persecuted churches of Asia Minor: “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).
The title of the Second Vatican Council’s pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World – Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope) – identifies two of the essential and closely related elements of our life as Christians.
In a challenging statement, which is a call to action on our part, this document reminds us that “We can justly consider that the future of humanity lies in the hands of those who are strong enough to provide coming generations with reasons for living and hoping” (GS 31).
In this connection may I also draw the reader’s attention to Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 encyclical, Spe Salvi, the title of which is drawn from an observation of Paul in his epistle to the Romans, “In hope we were saved” (8:24).
The papal teaching is well worth revisiting.
In his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul writes: “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope” (4:13).
With good reason, the passage from which these words are taken is often read in a Requiem Mass. How reassuring it is to believe that death does not have the last word.
Preaching on Easter morning this year Pope Francis had this to say: “We Christians believe and know that Christ’s resurrection is the true hope of the world, the hope that does not disappoint.”
For the Christian, to live and die without hope of eternal union with our loving God is a terrible prospect.
Sadly, it is that of a modern philosopher who maintained that all human life is devoid of meaning and that humankind is trapped on a sinking spit of sand called time between to great voids, the one prenatal and the other posthumous.
Br Brian Grenier is a Christian Brother in Brisbane.