April 22, 2011

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Easter is what keeps idealism alive in a human world

Cynthia DewesIdealism is the luxury of youth and the necessity of old age. It is what happens in between those ages that determines its presence throughout life.

It is certainly true that our experiences with relationships, work situations or just living in a world full of human problems in general can make idealism hard to maintain. What comes naturally when we are young and feel that anything is possible, when we are masters of our fate, make the ideals seem within easy reach. But as we age, one thing or another will inevitably thwart or even squelch our grasp for it.

When we are young, we are also impatient just because we are at the peak of our powers in many ways. We wonder why we can’t just eliminate poverty or war right now, and why we can’t achieve world peace or universal justice by an appointed time. After all, they’re the right things to do and everyone knows it, whether they’re religious or not. What’s to stop us?

Well, self-interest for one thing. The cause we admire may simply seem too time-consuming or too expensive or too intense to deal with while trying to live a life filled with family and work obligations. Let someone else do it. Someone like Dorothy Day or Albert Schweitzer or Mother Teresa, who didn’t mind spending their lifetimes working toward their ideals.

Sometimes a guilty conscience will urge would-be idealists to throw money at a cause instead of supporting it with time or effort. They try to justify their perceived weakness in upholding their idealism by tithing or mounting fundraisers to get others to help. The motivation is there, the intentions are worthy, but the human flesh is a trifle weak. Sounds uncomfortably familiar to me.

The thing about idealism is that it is inherently hopeful and optimistic. That is where Easter comes in, bringing the message that hope will be fulfilled and optimism rewarded because of Christ’s sacrifice. No matter how poor, uneducated, old or sick we may be, we will achieve our ideals if we put our trust in God’s love and support. Faith in Easter’s promise will overcome our human failings, including impatience and fear.

Our individual lives are microcosms of humanity in general so our personal efforts will reflect the overall condition of the world. If we are peacemakers in the family or the workplace, peace will reign in society. If we care lovingly for everyone we meet, love will prevail everywhere. If we are joyful because of hope, we will live in a joyful place and time.

It won’t be easy. We know just from living a few years that wishing for something won’t make it happen. And there is no doubt that we will be hurt along the way. It’s sad for unbelievers because they can’t allow themselves to share the sacraments and the community of the faithful, which help us sustain our ideals when the going gets hard.

Because of Easter, we are given the freedom to seek the good. We are able to meet each new person or new event in our lives with confidence, expecting the best and feeling able to work toward it. No more fear of others’ motives or suspicions of their promises. No more lying or cutting corners or hiding behind a mask. No more blame-laying or cursing fate.

We can rejoice that good will always triumph in the end. We can remain forever like the innocent child hunting for a basket full of sweet surprises.

Indeed, happy Easter!

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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