This weekend I went biking along a new-to-me bike path. New trails are always fun to ride because you don’t know what to expect. It turns out that this bike path went through an area with vacant lots, a railroad yard, and some abandoned buildings. There was hardly anyone around which seemed odd. We got turned around a couple of times because it was challenging to keep track of where the bike path went and at one point we ended up near the railroad yard. There was graffiti adorning the length of a train. Now I’ve seen some pretty interesting graffiti in my time–some wholly offensive, some true pieces of art. Most of the time I don’t understand what the words or phrases mean, but on one car of the train there was no mistake. It was perhaps one of the most disturbing messages I’ve ever seen. Written in classic graffiti style were these words: “f*** hope”. It literally stopped me in my tracks. It was such a bold and in-your-face statement, yet I couldn’t help feeling the intense sadness and perhaps even despair that gave rise to those words. What must a person have experienced in his or her life to come to this point?

The thing about hope is that it’s something we always hold on to, it’s something we cling to even when everything around us seems to be going to hell. Hope can give us a reason to get out of bed when our bodies ache or our hearts are broken or we just can’t imagine getting through another day. When we have hope, we wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment, even if it seems impossible, impractical, or unreasonable. In Christian thought, we sometimes refer to God as “our hope” because we believe that God is the ground of our hope.

Yet for some people, hope itself seems unattainable, futile perhaps. I really feel for these people. I was thinking about this at Mass yesterday and was reminded through the closing song “We Are Called” that one of our missions as Christians is to be “hope for the hopeless”. How do we do that? How do we encourage someone who has lost hope? There are lots of pretty words we can say, but hope — how to be hope for someone? It’s times like this that I am brought to my knees in prayer and ask for the grace of God to show me the way, even if it just means saying a silent prayer in a railroad yard.