Stars can be seen only at night, and the darker the night the greater the number of stars. In all our darkest trials, we must learn to highlight each midnight with starlight through the skylight of hope. And so, in our hours of darkness the best outlook is an uplook—an uplook through the skylight of hope from which we can see the Christ-star which will guide us, as it did the Magi, to the Prince of Peace. For truly Christ-focused Christians, the darker the midnight events in their personal life—or in the world at large—the brighter glows the star of hope. With David they exclaim, "I trust in you, O Lord.... My times are in your hands.. Save me in your unfailing love" (Ps 31:14-16).
At the beginning of each day, week, or month it might be appropriate to take a survey of just how strongly we believe in God and his love for us, especially in Our "midnight" situations, when he can seem so absent. Again, Paul’s challenge is helpful: "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you— unless, of course, you fail the test?" (2 Cor 13:5). Try this test by asking a somewhat harsh question: In the dark periods of life, do I respond more like an atheist or like a Christian? Perhaps your answer will crystallize as you ponder the following little item written by an anonymous professed atheist of the eighteenth century, "If I Believed":
"If I firmly believed, millions say they do, that the knowledge and practice of religion in this life influence destiny in another life, then religion would mean to me everything. I would cast away earthly enjoyments as dross, earthly cares as folly, and earthly thoughts and feelings as vanity. God would be my first waking thought and my last image before falling asleep. I would labor in his cause alone. I would hardly stop thinking of my future eternity. I would regard the saving of one soul worth a life of suffering; earthly consequences would never prevent me from acting or speaking out to accomplish this. The griefs of life would occupy hardly a moment of my thoughts. I would go forth to the world and preach this message in season and out of season, and my scripture text would be: "What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" All of this would overwhelmingly preoccupy me—that is, if 1 believed!"
As this atheist points out, real faith would help a person to see earthly life from the perspective of eternity; even grief "would occupy hardly a moment of my thoughts," he says. Most of us do not usually act as though we had this kind of faith! Yet it is what mature Christians are called to. Paul, for example, demonstrated this "spirit of faith" in dealing with the agonizing midnights of his own life.
We do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Peter is another example of faith in the midst of adversity. like Paul's, his advice often has an eschatological ring: "Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.... Those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good" (l Pt 4:19). As we learn to cope with life's midnight experiences, we too will become more able to focus on God and to see the present and future benefits of our suffering.
This excerpt is from the book The Art of Loving God by John H. Hampsch, C.M.F., originally published by Servant Publications, 1995. This and other of Fr. Hampsch's books and audio/visual materials can be purchased from Claretian Teaching Ministry, 20610 Manhattan Pl, #120, Torrance, CA 90501-1863. Phone 1-310-782-6408.