Monday, November 09, 2009

“Wherever we were going, well, we’re here.”

Well, maybe not yet, not in this world. But twenty years ago tonight, in a city that was divided by a stone wall for over a generation, the world appeared to a jubilant crowd to be on the verge of Valhalla. On that night, the infamous "Berlin Wall" was finally, if somewhat spontaneously, dismantled.

To understand the reason for its existence, is to understand history; not just that which followed the Second World War and the partitioning of Germany, but that of Russia, and her own view of its western frontier. Most nations are separated by borders of geographic significance; a river, a valley, a mountain range. Russia lacks the benefit of natural borders to separate it from the west, only a vast frontier, one that in spite of its breadth, gives way to a sense of vulnerability. The attempted conquests by Napoleon, among others, has compelled Russia to extend its influence on more than one occasion, into the Baltic States, and onward into eastern and even central Europe. The "Great Patriotic War" in the 1940s was the catalyst for the most recent incarnation of the ancient Russian Empire.

When Germany was occupied and divided into American, British, French, and Russian sectors, at the end of World War II, the capital city of Berlin, located well within the Russian sector, was similarly divided. So the Russians built a wall between their sector of Germany, and that of the other three. Thus the two parts became East and West Germany. In 1962, Berlin was divided in like manner, thus the two parts became East and West Berlin. A documentary of that year, an excerpt of which appears in the first clip, gives us a closer view of life surrounded by walls, at the cost of freedom.

In June of 1987, President Ronald Reagan stood at the Brandenburg Gate, and posed a challenge to the Soviet empire, and to Communist Party leader in particular: "Mister Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Two years later -- twenty years ago tonight -- that is exactly what happened, as seen in this ITV Newsreel from 1989.

We've heard a great deal about hope in the past year, haven't we? Most of us really don't know the meaning of the word. We think of "hope" in terms of wanting something that someone else has, which was a sympathy exploited in the previous general election. The Church teaches us that the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity) differ from the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) in that the former can not be obtained by human effort, but only through Divine Grace. This alone raises the discussion of hope far above the American political fray.

Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." (Hebrews 10:23) "The Holy Spirit ... he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:6-7) (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1817)

With faith in God through Christ, in the manner revealed to us through the Holy Spirit in the constant teaching of the Church, we aspire to our eternal reward in Heaven, and in the hope that comes through Divine Grace. Accepting this by means of the human will, and processing this through our intellect, it is imparted to our fellow man through charity which comes from the heart. So then, hope is the bridge that ties faith and charity together, and binds them as one.

Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end. (Teresa of Avila, Excl 15:3)

The world has changed around us in a manner unimagined only a quarter century ago. And even though various crises at home and abroad, remind us that the Kingdom of God has yet to be reached, we hold out for the real hope that only comes from above. Contrary to what the slogan-writers and spin doctors tell us, the real world that is ours has yet to be realized.

But where there is life, there is hope. And where there is genuine hope, God is already among us.

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