A few weeks prior to Christmas, I was doing my weekly grocery shopping expedition when I came across a truly sad sight. As I was crossing the parking in front of the grocery store, I saw an argument occurring between the driver of a pickup truck and a pedestrian. I could hear the raised voices long before I was close enough to discern the words being spoken.
As I walked closer, I could hear a lot of very colorful language and multiple references to the parentage of the two people arguing. Apparently, both the pickup driver and the pedestrian had tried to occupy the same square footage of the parking lot at the same time. This, being impossible under the laws of physics, prompted a spirited debate.
After a while, the pickup truck driver seemed to have exhausted his vocabulary of expletives and drove away. The pedestrian still had some unspoken thoughts which he shouted at the cars in the parking lot. At this juncture, a soccer mom loading her groceries into a mini-van tried to intervene by encouraging the distraught pedestrian to maintain a cool head; this proved to be a mistake. The distraught pedestrian began shouting colorful language at the soccer mom.
I was not alone in the parking lot; there were a few people leaving the grocery store with baskets full of groceries. Their reactions to the altercation caught my attention: all of them made sharp turns to avoid the scene of the argument.
Walking into the grocery store, I wondered what would motivate someone to embarrass himself or herself in public. I wondered what could make a person behave in such an anti-social manner as to have a rude, public argument about an accidental occurrence. Admittedly, the driver of the truck should have been more observant; at the same time, the pedestrian should have been more careful. The potential collision of the two was, however, purely accidental rather than intentional.
What could make an accidental mishap turn into a public brawl? The only answer is: a complete and utter lack of hope. Only the absence of any hope for the future of the world can make a person’s behavior degenerate to the point that it poses a threat to others and to self.
Hope is not the same as positive thinking or optimistic sentiment. Catholicism defines hope as a theological virtue; the word “theological” means that hope is directed toward God and the word “virtue” means that hope is a way of behaving. Hope is the commitment to live faithfully and charitably in an imperfect world. Hope, therefore, is based on an explicit trust in God.
Hope about the future of the world isn’t possible without faith in the Trinity. The sort of conflict I witnessed in that parking lot is the inevitable result of the fact that very few people have put their trust in God.
Trusting in oneself, trusting in another person’s (driving) skills, trusting in money, power, success, notoriety, or any other created thing will lead only to disappointment and despair – the despair that makes embarrassing oneself in public look like a good idea. The plain truth is that faith in God and trust in anything else follow the same dynamic as the pickup truck driver and the pedestrian: they cannot be present in the same place at the same time.
In a few moments, we will renew the vows of our Baptism. Presumably, the penitential practices of Lent have prepared us for this moment. The vows of Baptism require that we renounce trust in created things and place our full and explicit trust in God. The Baptism Covenant requires that we live in hope, behaving in a manner that expresses a full and explicit trust in God.
The vows we make in Baptism come with a benefit available from no other source: the vow to live according to God’s will makes it possible to live in faith and hope. You will spend the rest of this day and the rest of your life behaving in a manner that expresses your deepest commitments, and those commitments will be publicly perceptible to all. Where have you placed your trust? Do you live in hope or have you settled for optimism and wishful thinking? In Baptism, God offers the assurance and consolation of unshakeable hope.