Whether it’s trying to make time to sit down for a good chat with someone near and dear, putting on your running shoes and pounding the pavement for some much-needed exercise or perhaps, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when you have the task of getting The Southern Cross printed while the editor is on leave… seemingly small things can have you teetering on the edge.
So imagine the feeling when we are confronted by the really big things – climate change, major disasters, war, the poor, vulnerable and those in need – what then? How do we cope when dealing with those issues? It can seem pointless, or even hopeless, that as ‘one small cog in the wheel’ you really can’t make a difference.
That’s why is was so refreshing to chat with Jesuit priest Fr Fred Kammer last month. The septuagenarian has committed his life to not only serving God, but combining his faith and training as a lawyer for the pursuit of justice in the USA.
As a child growing up in the Deep South he saw how the colour of someone’s skin brought great injustices, and decided that he wanted in some way to make a difference.
And that he has. But it hasn’t always been easy.
As Fr Fred admitted in a fairly informal chat during a quick trip to Adelaide, doing nothing can often seem the best – and easiest – path forward. However, for him, a small laminated card that he keeps in his wallet provides the motivation to keep going.
Describing it as the ‘best piece outside of Jesus’ parables, on hope’ the card contains an extract from a speech given by Czech playwright and dissident Vaclav Havel at Liberty Hall, Philadelphia in 1986.
It covers Havel’s take on ‘hope’ in which he describes it as a ‘dimension of the soul’, ‘an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart’.
The man who would go on to become the president of Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 goes on to explain that hope is not the same as the joy we feel when things are going well or are successful, but rather it is ‘an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed’.
‘It is hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless…’
I read and re-read the card and absorbed the sentiments of Havel and realised that yes, it’s OK to feel hopeless, but there always is hope.
Fr Fred also made it a bit easier to understand how everyone can ‘make a difference’ at some level.
In his gentle manner, he explained that we can make a difference simply by picking one action, one cause, and getting started on the journey. As my mother would say, ‘don’t bite off more than you can chew’.
Sure, you may not see things change in a dramatic way on the world-scale, but you will be making a difference to someone or something. You will be helping to make the world a better place and responding to Pope Francis’ ‘cry of the earth, cry of the poor’.
So with the words of Fr Fred and Vaclav Havel ringing in my ears, I remain with ‘hope’ and convinced that taking some action – doing something no matter how small – will make a difference. Now it’s a matter of finding what action/cause to focus on.
Sometimes we just need that little jolt, to be inspired by someone like Fr Fred, to get the show on the road!
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