Deacon Christopher Pietraszko posted as a note on Facebook November 18, 2011 and he graciously shared with me this homily.
The modern era emphasizes the importance of “perception” and how being either positive or negative affects our goal towards self-fulfillment. This modern emphasis is junk.
If a woman has been physically abused by her husband, she has been through a horrible experience; and in her healing, her feelings need to be validated. If we are to say to this woman, “Wow you are so negative about your experience, I guess every relationship will be a failure as a result” we are being uncharitable, unrealistic and judgmental.
Sometimes communities are good, sometimes communities are bad. However, our culture avoids standards, and as a result wishes to avoid the whole question in general. We would rather focus on what makes us feel good, and what instills positive thinking, because that illusion is preferable to the illusion of pessimism.
Pessimism and optimism are distractions from an authentic and genuine spiritual life. Hope is the ultimate goal of our faith, and hope is grounded not in wishful thinking or cynical mindsets, it is grounded in objective truth: God loves us and offers us something greater than all the sin and despair and evil in this world.
That hope, which was encountered in the most sufferable moments in human history, be it a concentration camp or a prison cell filled with darkness and torture (St. John of the Cross), does not involve wishful thinking or despair. It involves a dry thirst for something more, and the realization that there is something more in the midst of that suffering and beyond it, because of God's immense Love. God's love allows hell and invites us to heaven, and as a result, His love involves both negativity and hope, both condemnation and redemption.
To look at the entire world with rose-coloured glasses is ultimately to do numerous things: namely to condone evil, to ignore evil, or to redefine evil as good. In all cases, those who have become victims of evil should be outraged when, as a result of optimism (false-hope), their pain and suffering has been neglected and ignored. When optimists have ignored the very real injustices done to others simply to foster "positive-thinking."
This modern story may have some degree of truth when it comes to the disordered tendency to think negatively and positively, but it in no way authentically begins to grasp the reality of genuine Christian Hope. Our hope is not grounded in an attitude or a personal expectation and illusion we can easily draw up for ourselves. Hope is grounded in a trusting relationship with Christ, that accepts the fact that purification and suffering in this life hurts, and feels terrible, while nonetheless infused with love and worth suffering because of what is discovered at the end of that road.
G. K. Chesterton says it perfectly when he says:
“Whatever the reason, it seemed and still seems to me that our attitude towards life can be better expressed in terms of a kind of military loyalty than in terms of criticism and approval. My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. All optimistic thoughts about England and all pessimistic thoughts about her are alike reasons for the English patriot. Similarly, optimism and pessimism are alike arguments for the cosmic patriot.” (Orthodoxy, Chapter 5)In other words, as we learn from scripture, our love for God is grounded in a love for the good and a hatred for what is evil. It is not a matter of saying that the glass is half full or half empty, but it’s about the common-sense statement that it is both, and that there are no sides to choose on this issue. If we choose a side we are choosing to be ignorant of either what is good or what is evil, and in both cases that is neither good, and is certainly evil.
The same thing applies to those who are “approachable.” An honest man seeks the advice of a wise person, not a nice person. An honest person seeks the advice of someone who is helpful, not someone who is cynical. Finally, an honest person seeks a man who can condemn evil and praise good, all in one action. Only those who love to reinforce an illusion of cynicism seek cynics, and a person who seeks the illusion of optimism and an inauthentic hope seek nice, happy people. If we are sinning with a smile on our face, it’s still a sin, and if we are being negative about the good, we are someone to become criticized. What makes pessimism and optimism evil is when they are non-integrative; that is to say when they cannot be seen as a reality that necessarily belongs together. If we love what is good, we will naturally hate what is evil. And if we love what is evil, we will naturally hate what is good, since the two cannot ever be reconciled.
Is the community we seek good or evil? How can we even begin to answer this question if we are so immersed into what we think good and evil should be? If we live by perception alone, there is no meaning to anything. But if we live in common-sense and self-honesty, our hope will become less wishful and more real.