Special Guests – FR Rick Frechette – The Assumption of Hope

“The poor will have hope, and the evil one will be made to shut his mouth.”
(Job 5:16)
Dear family and friends,

I know that news of Haiti is rare.
It is probably just as well, or you would be even more saturated by bad news than you already are.

In recent years, many people live with a heaviness from pandemics, public shootings, global warming, wars, nuclear arms proliferation, hostile nationalism, fragile world economies, and other threats to existence.

It is not easy to imagine a hopeful future.

This also generates anxiety about what the future holds for our children and grandchildren. They deserve a better world than the one we are giving them.

The situation in Haiti unravels at a cruel and unrelenting pace.

In just the last few weeks we witnessed widespread gang wars, a massacre in Cite Soliel, the burning of the Cathedral, the burning of the Judicial Court, the closing of a major bank, the kidnapping of four of our staff, thousands more internal refugees.

Civilization and it’s symbols- community, cohesion, transcendence, justice, economy-
are being wiped out.

As priest and physician, our work puts me daily into direct encounter with the physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds of those torn to shreds by tragedy.

I am often asked if my faith in God has suffered from witnessing so much suffering.

I used to answer that I have more trouble believing in people than in God.

People are without any doubt the cause of most of the horrors we have seen.

But I hesitate to say that now, even with things much worse.

God’s belief in the human family has been sorely tested from the time of Adam,
but God’s belief in us stands firm.

We believe in God. God believes in us.
It is still the magnificent equation.

In the Scriptures and tradition, there is the persistent idea that a handful of good people can save the world.
There is also the  persistent idea that you won’t know who they are.

They are humble, reverent, hardworking, good and anonymous.

In Jewish mysticism the number is thirty six.
Maybe you remember hat Abraham, trying to save Sodom and Gomorrah, bartered it down to five.

When I make in my focus to look around for those five people, I noticed that every time I am ready to condemn the human race, someone else wonderful shows up.

Many of them are total strangers, most of them are without titles or diplomas or roles. They are just phenomenal people who show up at the just right time, with just the right word, to generously help in any way they can.

Tom Powers comes to mind right away.

You can’t possibly know of him.

He was one of the millions of decent and hard working people
who have graced our planet, with an ordinary and steady way of living out a quiet heroism.

He was a mailman, and with his hands and feet he delivered news, bad or good, which he did not author.

In so doing, he marched his gruff goodness through many a neighborhood and over many a year, delivering envelopes and packages. He also delivered, with a quick Irish wit and to anyone who would listen, a word of encouragement or piece of advice which he did author.

When he was advancing in years, and was “under the knife” too many times to remove a newest cancer, he said to his well studied priest son,

“Did you know you can go to heaven in pieces?”

This is great theology.

Deeper than the his cancer, deeper even than his physical body, he achieved the sureness about love and its Author, that enabled him to laugh at the downside of ascending to God.

Tom was not victorious over cancer, but like Job, he did shut its mouth.
Cancer could not speak to him of emptiness, cynicism, or despair.

Within the last fortnight, and for a second time, our orphanage for special needs children was raided by armed bandits, and four young female staff were kidnapped.

Kenson, the director, said to me the night we released the four kidnapped staff,

“I don’t know for how much longer I can take this.
Every time this happens I die a little.”

Tom’s testimony is about the soul becoming radiant as the body fades.
Kenson’s is about the very fading of the soul.

Tom’s comment shows soul vibrancy,
Kenson’s comment shows the soul becoming sick.

How can we not get sick, if we open our hearts to a wounded and sick world?
To fierce dynamics that lay heavy burdens, destroy and tear down?

Hope is the best guarantee for the health of soul.
Hope takes the hit in soul sickness.

Yet there are some dynamics that work against the healing of hope.

One is, we can get used to bad news, addicted to bad news, and eventually prefer bad news.

Sounds strange, but the same giddy feeling that can make a deadly blizzard become the joy of  snow day,
or can make a movie about a horrendous murder become satisfying entertainment,
can suddenly flip us into having a continual preference for a world that is always full of imminent danger.

Snow days and horror movies do have their place in life.

They help us face the fear of chaotic forces, which we cannot control, from a safe distance.
They are evolutionary “try-outs” for when real tragedy hits.

But we can dangerously become addicted to bad headlines, become internet ambulance chasers, filling ourselves with more and more of what is terrible, for a strange satisfaction that gives us- at the expense of hope.

Heightened fear of what is dangerous and terrifying releases actual chemicals in our body, causing the energy rush of adrenaline and the satisfying high of “morphine like” endorphins, by which our bodies prepare us for injury from a grave danger. These drugs can become addictive.

Media outlets understand the chemical power of the shocking news grab.

Another danger to the healing of hope is when there is an absence of hope in the spirit of the times. At this moment in our history, hope is not “in the air,” lifting us upwards in wholesome optimism.

By contrast, there are times when a whole family, a whole country, a whole world, is so high on hope you would have to be totally dour not be swept up by it.

I remember the time of folk music proliferation and “hootenannies” when airways and parks were filled with sung poetry, lyrical determinations to create peace and end war.

I remember “We are the World”, a world wide chant against hunger in Africa and Ethiopia, and against apathy to human suffering anywhere in the world.

We are not in such a time, and so we need to create our own hope, and to seek out other hopeful people.
Rather that getting swept up, we need to be the protagonists of hope.

This is why it is very valuable, when thinking about the human race, to start noticing how many humble, genuinely good people there are in every direction, holding the world together.

When hope is not in the air, you find it underground, deeply rooted.
Like a treasure.
You don’t just grab it in the air.
You need to dig.
You need to work for it.

In the same way that vast networks of roots enable trees in a forest to communicate with each other, warn each other, to nourish each other, we need to meet each other through the treasures of our rootedness.

When walking though the burned Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption after the fire, with the charred sacred artifacts crunching under my boots, I wondered how would we ever celebrate the feast day on August 15.

Yet, the hundreds of people still coming for daily mass in the shadow of the burned cathedral, and under the heavy fire of war size weapons, show how deeply they are rooted in hope.

The priests of the Cathedral, who will not abandon their people, show how deeply they are rooted in hope.

Their witness makes it so very evident that while bandits and fires can destroy a building, the cannot destroy faith, or meaning, or worship. They cannot destroy hope.

The Cathedral feast can and will be celebrated, even without a Cathedral, because of the depth of its roots.

The feast of the Assumption of Mary proclaims the high dignity of the human body, equally destined for heaven with the soul, in the fullness of time.

On the streets just blocks away, those killed by bandits are set on fire and burned.
This burning speaks of total loathing and disdain of the human being.
A total contrast to the resounding proclamation of the meaning of Assumption.

To come back to Kenson, who dies a little with every attack on our children and staff, you have to also know that he enters the arena of engagement even with his wounds, into the jaws of the lions even if diminished, to liberate our four friends from human bondage.

His fading hope gets revitalized by his heroic sacrifice.

This is a final element of hope we must understand.

An instruction from the Book of Wisdom reveals to us that night of the Passover was made known before hand to give the courage and strength needed to survive that violent night.

We are also told that the “children of the good” were paving the way of the coming deliverance, by their quiet good works and sacrifices.

The teaching is that from the deepest roots of our hope, in spite of our wounds, when we keep doing what is right and just without counting the cost, hope flourishes within and paves the way for goodness.

When we do this, the evil which threatens our very hope, and would lead us to cynical mindsets and self destructive behavior, must shut its mouth.

It is totally within our power, at every moment, to think the good thought, to say the good word, to do the good deed.

This is how to keep our soul healthy, our hope rooted, and how to pave the way for the next “passover deliverance”, which will come at the proper time.

We stand on this promise.

The deplorable violence can’t make any of us stop our work.
It can only make us do it a different way.
At least for now.

“Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams.” (Pope John XXIII)

Thank you as always for your support for our work in Haiti, which enables hope to take action.

May God bless you and your families,
May God bless us all.

Fr Richard Frechette CP DO
Port au Prince
August 15, 2022

Copyright © 2021 Fr. Rick, All rights reserved.

Fr. Rick · St. Luke Foundation for Haiti · 8980 SW 56th Street · Miami, FL 33165 · USA