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Five Ways to Maintain Hope

worshiping natureSadly, a priest recently committed suicide in the rectory a block down the street from my house. In my view, this priest (and anyone else who has committed suicide) must have lost all hope. To me, a person can only take his or her own life if steeped in utter hopelessness.

That got me thinking about hope as one of the theological virtues and what we can do to maintain it.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes hope as, “…the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 1817).

Hope, according to the Catechism, saves us from discouragement, sustains us during times of abandonment, preserves us from selfishness, and leads us to the happiness that flows from charity. Hope keeps us centered on God and his promise of eternal salvation and stops us from giving up.

To a greater or lesser degree, I think we all feel like giving up from time to time. For some of us, that leads to a bad day or even a few bad days. For others, it leads to depression and anxiety. And, sadly, for far too many, it leads to a darkness so deep that one takes his or her own life.

I’ve never been steeped in anxiety or depression, and I’ve never been suicidal. But I have had my bad days – sometimes many in a row – and I have come to the point of wondering how in the world I could go on. I’ve never been utterly hopeless, but I have at times struggled to keep my hopes up. For those times, I’ve devised for myself a five-point system for maintaining hope.

1. Read the Scriptures daily. The Church teaches that the Scriptures are truly the Word of God and ”forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” (CCC 133) It’s easier to place our hope in Christ when we know him and his Word thoroughly.

2. Receive the Eucharist and Reconciliation as often as possible. The sacraments are our gateways to God’s grace. The Church teaches that the Eucharist lays the foundation for every Christian life and its principal fruit is an intimate union with Christ Jesus (CCC 1391). Reconciliation, according to the Church, “”is usually followed by peace and serenity of conscience with strong spiritual consolation.” (CCC 1468) The sacraments unite us with Christ and when we’re united with him, we’re less tempted to hopelessness.

3. Acknowledge your feelings, and offer them to our Lord. Pretending that everything is just fine can only work for so long, and then we crash. It’s fine to feel hopeless as long as we allow ourselves to recognize that we’re feeling that way and then turn it over to Jesus. When I’m feeling dismal, I meditate on the Agony in the Garden. Jesus didn’t feel hopeless, but he did feel anguish over what was about to come to pass. He understands our human feelings and is both willing and capable of carrying them for us.

4. Do something positive. Hopelessness makes it seem as though we’re inadequate, Doing something that makes us feel adequate changes that thought pattern. Get some exercise, pick up a favorite hobby, re-arrange the living room, or call an old friend. For me, the cure-all for discouragement is baking bread. It puts me back in that “can-do” mood. If our family doesn’t need bread just then, I give it away.

5. Pray and sleep – in either order or at the same time. Sounds ridiculous? Perhaps, but it works. We can lose hope simply because we’ve run ourselves ragged and are exhausted. What better way to lift the fatigue than resting (literally) in the arms of our Lord and his Blessed Mother? When I feel overwrought and depleted, I’ll grab my Rosary, find a comfy spot, and pray until I doze. As long as it doesn’t become habitual procrastination, a nap can do wonders to adjust one’s perspective.

These are my five ways to maintain hope; you may find mine beneficial or you might come up with your own. Regardless, the objective is to create interference, so so speak, so that a moment, day, or week of hopelessness doesn’t become ingrained, all-encompassing and dangerous.


Marge Fenelon is a Catholic wife, mother, author, columnist, and speaker. She’s a frequent contributor to a number of Catholic publications and websites and is a regular guest on Catholic radio. She’s written several books about Marian devotion and Catholic family life and has touched the hearts of audiences in a variety of venues. Her latest book is Imitating Mary: Ten Marian Virtues for the Modern Mom (Ave Maria Press, 2013).
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  • http://sacredlibrary.wordpress.com/ SacredLibrary

    It is distressing to hear of anyone committing suicide, but crushing to hear of a priest who was in such anguish that he could see no other way out. This post about “hope” is good, yet as a priest he was reading and preaching the Scriptures, consecrating and partaking of the Eucharist often, if not daily and hopefully going to confession and praying (though when sinking into the darkness of despair, confession and prayer is difficult if not impossible (been there)). So one wonders who or what was surrounding this priest that could have crushed him so and why would any parish priest be “so alone”. Praying for priests. May our Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on his soul.

  • Gregory

    Marge, the opening sentence stunned me beyond any words. I have prayed for the priest.Thank you for your thoughts. May they bare much fruit. Again then- “placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength”.

  • donut

    Perhaps seeing a Physician might be in order to prescribe an anti-depressant, I know it helped me when all seemed lost in my life

  • Maria

    It’s not necessarily that the priest lost hope in God or eternal life, but perhaps he lost hope in ever overcoming depression in THIS life. Clinical depression is such a crushing thing that the only thing worse, in my opinion, is RECURRENT depression. This is what really paves the way for suicide.

  • PewSitter

    More than likely he was 1) A child molester looking at life in prison, or 2) Gay, and looking at having to find a new job, or 3) Atheist, and having to find a new job, or 4) In a dead parish with no hope of ever being reassigned.
    Betcha bottom dollar his bishop barely knew his name, much less his problems.

    Pretty common in the catholic world.

    • anne

      I take it you’ve never suffered from depression, or known anyone who tried to kill themselves. Or known anyone who has killed themselves.
      If you did, you would not write as you do.

  • noel fitzpatrick

    Marge,

    Many thanks for this sensitive and thoughtful article.

    As one who is considered mad in CL and has alleged mental problems (narcissism) I hesitate to reply.

    But reading the article and the responses (except that of PewSitter) I see sympathy and deep love and respect. None of us know why anyone, priest or lay person, commits suicide, and we hope the Lord will have mercy on all of us.

    Mental illness, like physical illness, is not sinful. It is not a sin to have cancer, heart problems or mental illness, in general, but not looking after ourselves may have contributed to our illness and that is another issue. We may not be responsible for our actions when our minds are disturbed, hence suicide may not be sinful.

    The advice you give, Marge, is very good. But the theological
    virtue of hope, like the other theological virtues, is a gift of God through Grace.

    Finally may I repeat my query? Is CL becoming more positive and encouraging, or is this a false perception of mine? Please let me know.

    • Marge

      Noel,
      I can’t speak for all of Catholic Lane, but for myself, yes, I have been trying to be more positive and encouraging in my posts both here and on my blog. Thanks for commenting!

  • noel fitzpatrick

    Marge,
    many thanks for your reply to me. I appreciate greatly that you took the time, in spite of the many call on your time, to reply to me.

    I also want to thank you for the great work you are doing for the Church.

    In these difficult time it is important to remain optimistic and positive. With so many difficulties facing the Church it is vital that Catholics support each other and realize we are one Body of Christ.