Gift of hope - Madonna Magazine

Gift of hope

Sr Rita Malavisi 09 November 2021

Hope is one of the theological virtues. Virtues are gifts from God that lead us to live in a close relationship with God. Hope comes from God and leads to God.

There are four other (cardinal) virtues which we can practise. They are more ‘humanistic’ virtues – prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. These hinge on our education and good practice.

Hope, however, is different. You really just don’t wake up one day and say ‘oh look, I now have hope’. We are called to become aware of the events through our lives where faith, hope and love are being cultivated.

For the past couple of decades, I have been volunteering with people seeking asylum in this country. I was drawn to their plight (and still hear echoes today), when people say ‘we will decide who comes into this country and the circumstances in which they come’.

Be kind to migrants

Growing up in Australia, in a Middle Eastern/Mediterranean culture, everyone was treated as one. My parents, as were those of Australia’s first saint Mary MacKillop, were immigrants to this country. Mary MacKillop in a letter to Sr Josephine McMullen, referring to treatment of the sugar farmers in northern Queensland, said: ‘Be kind to foreigners. Remember I was a foreigner once, and as such was never laughed at, nor unkindly treated’ (letter dated 6 March 1900).

I began volunteering in 2001, and also started visited the detention centre which opened on my doorstep in a neighbouring suburb some years later. More than 200 unaccompanied minors were being held in detention. I visited weekly, bringing hope to a dismal and dark reality.

When the system imprisons people or detains them and gives no hope whatsoever, the visitors are the ones that bring hope to them. Even though we are not professionals, or lawyers, or have a particular purpose – we try to be companions. To enable the time to pass a little easier, or a bit quicker. Our role is to take our theological virtues with us – faith, hope and love. Our visits try to say, ‘we support you even though the whole system has you detained. We don’t agree with it. And we will be here with you.’

Didn’t Jesus say ‘whatever you do for the least of these you do for me?’ I thought I was the one helping, but the lesson I learned was ‘the ones who have the least, give the most.’

Power of God

Our human activity is insignificant when compared to the immense power of God.

In the Old Testament we hear the exhortation to look after the stranger. It is where I believe that respect and care owing to the stranger is established.

In Leviticus, we find the following appeal: ‘When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’ (Lev 19:33-34)

Because of COVID-19, I haven’t been able to return to visit those being held in detention, but that doesn’t stop me contacting them through daily messages. Those in detention have faced the turmoil with admirable stoicism. I am the one that gets hope through their lives.

Remembering hope, I am reminded of the movie Breakthrough (2019), where the mother has a faith that is strong enough to keep her son alive. Based on a true story, the son is given no hope of recovery after he falls through ice on a frozen lake. Unshaken by her faith, the weeping mother cradles her son, who shows no sign of life at all, and pleads with the Holy Spirit to not let her son die.

Spirit of life

Do we remember to let the Spirit breathe life into our community? Is our faith as strong as the mother's, who against all odds, prayed and pleaded with God?

St Thomas Aquinas in Summa Theologiae (ST, I-II.64) says that hope is not earned but is a grace freely given by God to us for our salvation.

Remembering the times of visiting detention makes me recall the words from our Second Vatican Council, written more than 55 years ago: ‘The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.’ We are all connected.