Simply proclaim the Lord Christ holy in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. (1 Peter 3:15)
The latter half of this verse has been stuck in my head for some months now, and looking it up reinforced a few things to me. Firstly, Peter remains my favourite saint, despite clearly having it in for me. Secondly, I consistently fail to see the big picture – I had not remembered the first half of this verse. Thirdly, if God wants you to see something, He will make it clear. Like a torch beam in the usual fog of our understanding.
I think this verse is probably challenging for everyone in different ways. For me, the having an answer ready is not so difficult as the hope. For someone to ask me where my hope comes from, I have to appear hopeful, present a joyful, inspired outlook on life. Anyone who knows me is probably aware how far this is from my conventional existence, and in large part this stems from a sense of my own failures. Over the last ten or so years I’ve become number, more emotionally detached, more self-centred and isolated. Things I used to be successful at or enjoy no longer play much of a part in my life, and coming to Oxford certainly heightens this sense of all one’s achievements being in the past. In the face of conflicting social and political opinions my voice has subsumed into terrified silence. At worst, I feel like a waste of the brilliant life, family and upbringing I’ve been given: boring, uninspired, and certainly uninspiring.
And honestly exposure to Catholicism, to its teachings and particularly to its members, only exacerbates this feeling of inadequacy. I have friends who I value, admire and wish to emulate: intellectuals, talented artists, those whose prayer lives seem so consistent and so fruitful, those whose general demeanour is one of wisdom and generosity, and most of all, those who are permanently joyful. Beside them, I usually find myself wondering where I went wrong, why I am such a bad Catholic. The challenge of my friends, the challenge of Catholicism, sometimes just seems impossible.
It is because of my own failures that I’ve found myself clinging even more to Christ.
As a cradle Catholic, I have had the honour of knowing Christ all my life, but as I grow older I only find it more amazing how every single human experience can be subsumed in Him. The ordinary is made extraordinary simply by connection to Him. Every flaw and failing is redeemed through His sacrifice. The greatest minds, the most loving hearts, the bravest souls, are as humble and awestruck as the stupidest, laziest sinner before Him. It is perhaps a fairly obvious truth, but I’m glad that I still find it astonishing.
There is a practicality to Christ that keeps my faith alive. Sin is matched by confession – a grace I now indulge in about once a week and usually find myself either crying or singing on the way home. Complacency is matched by responsibility – that nagging voice in the back of my mind that tells me to pick up my rosary or pull out my headphones and talk to this person on the street. Fear is matched by trust – Church doctrine that I can fall back on to resist the draw of popular opinion, even if I’m not yet brave enough for public debate. And above all, the Eucharist, whether received or simply adored, brings a peace to my heart that I have never found anywhere else in this broken world.
I missed the point with this verse, and focused on what I was meant to achieve rather than from Whom that achievement will ultimately stem. And I do know that I do have hope – it is impossible not to with Christ in my heart. I also have hope that this internal proclamation will eventually lead to more confident external proclamations, that one day the hope will be more evident to those around me. But without that first part of the verse, the second is impossible. Without Christ, there cannot be any hope. With Him, it is impossible not to have it.