A reflection on the difficult work of hope

I have been considering the humble rooster. In The Return of the King, the final book of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the great battle over Middle Earth draws to a close. In the city of Gondor, which is shrouded in darkness, exhausted, and overcome by the forces of Sauron, strength fails even the great wizard Gandalf the White. His adversary raises his weapon and cries: “Old fool! This is my hour. Do you not know Death when you see it? Die now and curse in vain.”

Just as it seems all hope is lost and the age of man is finished—and it seems a mercy for life to be ended—a cock crows somewhere in the city. “Shrill and clear he crowed,” Tolkien writes, “recking nothing of wizardry or war, welcoming only the morning that in the sky far above the shadows of death was coming with the dawn.”

Every person experiences days that feel more like endless nights. However, unlike the rooster, experience jades us, and we can easily ignore the rising of the sun. Wizardry and war captivate us, and we fear to turn our minds elsewhere and be charged with naivete.

But as Catholics, are we not called to attend to the greater reality that the sun always rises? Our cry should be shrill and clear, not because we mean to cut out all other noise, but because it is instinct: human beings were made to worship.

As I prepare to graduate from Our Lady’s university, I have realized that I, like other members of this community, fail to embody the victory of the Church, and we fail in different ways. Living as beacons of hope is infinitely more important and difficult than any of the specialized work we do here. Relationship outlives rote memorization of facts, ideas, aesthetics, and takes.

Therefore, when we Catholics forget to live differently—a trap that besets us even here in Catholic Disneyland—we wound Christ in a unique way. When we aestheticize the faith, when academic, political, and social ends supersede our heavenly purpose, we do something far worse than living as “nones.” With St. Peter, we reject the Lord and destroy charity.

In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul writes about those who “conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil 3:18), and it is not difficult to see that we ought to count ourselves among them. St. Paul unites us with Christ’s persecutors when he explains that their crime is that they, like us, “set their mind on earthly things” (Phil 3:19), whether that be naming enemies or any number of things that distract us from God. We share the need for grace; Paul remarks, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil 3:19).

If our citizenship is of another world, then are not our definitions of success, our relational pursuits also on another plane? Paul insists in his letter to the Ephesians that we often occupy ourselves with and fear the wrong things: “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age” (Eph 6:12).

How foolish is the rooster, then? Is not the virtuous life the most coherent?

Over spring break this year, 44 students traveled with the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture to the Holy Land. One hazy afternoon, we drove to a community on the southern border with Gaza. There I saw the most beautiful neighborhood I had seen in all of Israel: single-family homes with yards, kids and dogs playing in the streets, the whole scene imbued with serenity.

And yet, every 30 feet or so, there was a bomb shelter. The community dwells too close to Hamas’ training center for the Iron Dome to fend off missiles, and an attack might shower down at any time.

Looking out over the hills of this Israeli farm and into Hamas’s city Sderot, my vision darkened and I wondered who could stand to live on such dangerous ground, if any alternative is within their power, and if they or we can hope for any better. The vernacular of this world is one of wizardry and war.

I am not sure from which direction he sounded, but as I looked about and succumbed to resentment and discouragement, a rooster crowed.

I remembered then what I had realized as I read that favorite passage in The Return of the King for the first time: though Christ’s victory sometimes seems so removed from our world, this is a lie. Deep down all things, goodness dwells and speaks to His glory.

The sun has risen and will rise again. May that be enough for us.

Elizabeth Self is a senior majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and theology and minoring constitutional studies. Spring fever and senioritis have demanded that she make a bucketlist of springtime outdoor adventures. Please contribute by reaching her at eself@nd.edu.

Photo credit: Sunrise in Galilee, by Elizabeth Self