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Living the Gospel of HOPE

Article author Sister Marie McCarthy, left, places the Providence Associate pin on Sarian Bouma, who she companioned in becoming a Providence Associate, during the First Commitment Ceremony in 2017.

I sit to write these words at a moment when we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that is worsening, in a country newly awakening to the reality and evil of systemic racism and amidst an approaching presidential election the likes of which we have never seen. And I ask myself, “What does it mean to actually live a Gospel of Hope? Not just think about it, but live it, in this time and in this place?” What does it mean for me? What does it mean for you? What does it mean for us together?

Three familiar sayings come to mind: “Love and then do what you will!” (St. Augustine).” Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary use words.” (St. Francis). And “Be prepared at all times to give an account for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) Let’s take a look at each of these.

Love, then do what you will

I recall hearing these words as a young woman and thinking they somehow let me off the hook! I could simply do whatever felt good, just so long as I loved. I have learned over time that Augustine is correct, but it is not so easy. It was not the young Augustine who wrote those words. It was the mature Augustine who had come to understand that to love in such fullness costs everything and breaks us open in ways we never imagined.

All the values of the Gospel are summed up in Jesus’ command to love — to love God above all, to love one’s neighbor as oneself, to love one’s enemies, to forgive, to welcome everyone. Talk about a challenge! Yet these are the values at the heart of the Gospel message. Living these both brings hope and fills us with joy. So, how do we in fact, live these values?

Preach the Gospel at all times

The words of Francis, “Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words,” is another way of saying, “Don’t just talk about the Gospel. Live it!” How do we do that? The same way that St. Francis did. The same way that Saint Mother Theodore did. Through the practices of love, mercy and justice. By embodying in all kinds of little actions the values of the gospel and of Catholic social teaching: By honoring the life and dignity of every single person. By caring for all of creation. By welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, respecting the dignity of work and the rights of workers, living the beatitudes in our daily lives.

We know the lists. We actually come to know what these lists mean through the many men and women — living and dead — who embody these values, whose very lives speak these values. And this includes you and me.

Be prepared to give an account for Hope

Where can we find real hope in these dark days? In the experience of a community that lives the Gospel and encourages and sustains each other. Every act of love and care, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, sends out the energy of love and hope into our world. And it makes a real difference. So, let’s not despair. Let’s love and then do what we will. Let’s live the Gospel out loud with our very lives. Let’s be together the presence of Providence in our world and a song of Hope that reaches to the ends of Earth.

(Originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of HOPE magazine.)

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Sister Marie McCarthy

Sister Marie has been a Sister of Providence since 1960. She has ministered as a music teacher and in pastoral theology, working as a pastoral psychotherapist. She was a member of the Sisters of Providence Leadership Team for 15 years. Sister Marie currently ministers as the program director for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

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