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Nicholas Hardesty

Nicholas Hardesty

The Bible is full of passages on hope. Paul’s letters alone are constantly returning to this theme. This is to be expected, since the Bible tells the story about the foundation of our hope – “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27) – and Paul is the great Apostle of Hope.

I don’t have enough space to provide the many relevant passages from his letters, but here are some popular examples:

“If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:25)

“Since we have such a hope, we are very bold” (2 Corinthians 3:12)

“We who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:12)

My favorite, though, comes from Paul’s account of the life of Abraham:

“He believed, hoping against hope, that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’ according to what was said, ‘Thus shall your descendants be.’” (Romans 4:18)

Against All Odds

Abraham didn’t just hope, he hoped against hope. That’s a peculiar phrase, but it caught on quickly and is now a popular idiom. So, for example, someone might say, “I’m hoping against hope that I pass this test” or “I’m hoping against hope that we find a cure for cancer.”

In common parlance, “hoping against hope” means never giving up, even when the odds are stacked against you, or expecting a particular outcome, even when it’s decidedly unlikely. This certainly describes Abraham. He was 100 years old and without children when God promised that Abraham would be the father of many nations. A sea of descendants for a centenarian? It doesn’t get more unlikely than that! And yet, Abraham persevered.

By hoping against hope, Abraham became a role model for all Christians. But, there’s still more to draw out of this interesting phrase. After all, how can hope be against hope? And how does that dichotomy somehow come to mean “believing in remote possibilities” or “facing insurmountable odds”?

Hope vs. Hope

I think the only way to pit hope against hope is if there’s two kinds of hope in question here. There are, in fact, two kinds of hope in the Bible: there is the hope from Paul’s letters, the virtue that comes from and is rooted in Jesus. This hope is the humble expectation that, in Jesus, there is salvation, resurrection, and victory over sin and death. But, there is also a worldly kind of hope, one that is not rooted in faith or in God, what the Bible calls “vain” or “uncertain” hope (see, for example, 2 Maccabees 7:34; Psalm 33:17; 1 Timothy 6:17). Sometimes, we mistakenly cultivate it, too.

By hoping against hope, Abraham is setting the hope that comes from God’s promises above any hope he could have in the world or in the natural order of things. It’s interesting that, even at 100 years old, this was not easy for him. By conceiving a son through his servant Hagar, his hopes became inverted. But God renewed His promises, and Abraham renewed his hope in them, until the day came when Sarah finally gave birth to Isaac.

As we see from Abraham’s example, it is only by setting hope against hope that we can expect the fulfillment of our deepest desires and we can persevere through life’s greatest challenges. Hope in anything else will only frustrate and disappoint us, if not outright destroy us. That is what’s at stake when we hope against hope.

The Next Abraham

What is your hope rooted in?

It’s easy to say that our hope is in Jesus, but is it really? Or is it rooted in money, health, political victory, career success, or popularity?

If you’re not sure, ask Jesus to reveal the false hopes in your life. He will show you what they are and, better yet, He will give you the strength to replace them with Him. That’s the only way that we, like Abraham, can hope against hope and see the fulfillment of God’s mighty promises.

 

Nicholas Hardesty

I’ve written quite a bit in this space about my journey as a disciple. For example, I’ve written about the time I used a compliment on my beard as an opening to invite someone to my parish (July 2018). I’ve mentioned the faith conversations I get into on Ash Wednesday because of my dirty forehead (March 2019), and the prophetic word I shared with a friend (September 2019). I’ve told stories of praying over my son for healing (January 2020) and praying with my family every night at bedtime (July 2020).

You might assume, based on all this, that I habitually seize the moment. When I was a parish DRE, people would assume this all the time. They saw the bible studies, RCIA sessions, retreats, and answers to Catholic questions in the weekly bulletin and they assumed, “Nick must pray, like, 10 times a day.” “Surely he is an evangelist in our midst.”

It wasn’t true. It’s still not.

Catholic Imposter Syndrome

Of course, other people didn’t know that, but I did. I walked around with the reality of my spiritual situation every day. The fact is, I didn’t pray as often as I should. I wasn’t that holy. I didn’t always seize the moment, not even most of the time.

As a result, I was convinced for many years that I was an imposter, like the “false apostle” about whom St. Paul wrote so forcefully (see 2 Corinthians 11:12-15). How could I not be? After all, I had fooled everyone into believing I was an authentic Catholic when in reality I was not.

Or so I thought.

The Ups and Downs of Discipleship

Eventually I realized that the “Nicholas as Con Man” narrative is a lie – one Satan tells to keep me from progressing as a disciple. The truth came when I finally learned more about the path of discipleship.

In her book, Forming Intentional Disciples, Sherry Weddell presents the path that leads to a commitment to follow Jesus as a disciple. An apostolate called The Evangelical Catholic outlines the path one follows after becoming a disciple, which culminates in missionary discipleship.

While, in both cases, their explanations of the discipleship path were deeply informative, what helped me the most was their appreciation for how messy it all is. You can progress quickly or slowly. You can get stuck on a stage or revert back to a previous one. You can pass through every stage in the process of discerning the call to discipleship, and then pass through them all again in the process of discerning a different call (for example, the call to be on mission, or the call to live a certain vocation).

What this means is that an “authentic Catholic” is not one who gets it right all the time. Everyone is at a different stage in the process. Everyone is working out what it means to be a disciple. It takes work to continue on this journey. It’s imperfect and it’s not always easy.

So Who Are You?

Yea, I don’t always get it right, but sometimes I do. So, am I a disciple or am I not? Are you a disciple or are you not?

I’m convinced now that if you’ve made the decision to know and follow Jesus, then that’s that – you’re a disciple. That doesn’t mean you don’t have work to do. There’s always room to grow in fidelity to the call of Jesus. But, if you see a homeless person and you keep on walking, that doesn’t mean you suddenly cease to be a disciple. It means you’re a disciple who didn’t get it right that time. The task then is to make sure you get it right the next time.

That’s what a disciple does.

Of course, if you’re still unsure, ask Jesus. He will tell you who you are and where He wants you to be. Satan is the con man, not the Christian who keeps on trying.

 

Nicholas Hardesty

In my last blog post, I closed with these words: “In Jesus, there is always more to life.” My family recently spent some vacation time in Maine, and it provided me ample opportunity to ponder this “more to life” and what it means.

One day, when there was a break in the summer rain, we decided to get the kids out of the house and go for a nature walk at a nearby campground. Maine is known for its towering “cathedral pines,” and our little trail guided us right through them. The grandeur of these massive trees enveloped us as we entered deeper and deeper into the forest. The air smelled like Christmas. The temperature was a perfect 70 degrees. With a great many oohs and ahhs, the children soaked it in. For a moment, it was glorious.

But then, it wasn’t.

The baby started crying. My next youngest son ate a bright red berry and we had no clue if it was poisonous or not. My daughter started whining for food. My oldest son started complaining that he was tired. Then they all started fighting. Then my second-youngest son lost his shoes in the woods. Then my daughter lost the cap on her water bottle. Of course, the baby continued to cry, until our lovely day ended up a bit of a disaster!

What Kind of God Is This?

When we finally got back to our car, my wife said, “Well, at least it was nice for about 10 minutes.”

That got me thinking, and on the car ride back to our lodge, I had a little chat with God. “10 minutes? That’s all you could give me? You could have wooed me in those woods. You could have taken my breath away. You could have given me rest – but you didn’t. Instead, you gave me 10 minutes. Why, Lord? Why? Why does it always have to be this way?”

What do you think? Is our God really a God of outlandish gratuity, a God who fills our cups to overflowing, a God of more, if He can only give me 10 minutes of peace with the pine trees?

Paradoxically, I think the answer is yes.

A God of More

God really does desire to give us more. Sometimes He bursts open the doors of heaven and lets His glory pour out all over us. Sometimes He gives us more than we could ever hope for or remotely dream of. But, as I learned among the great pines, sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes His glory trickles out. Sometimes we want a rushing river but all we get is a babbling brook.

As I continued to pray about this, I came to realize that the brook doesn’t mean that God has changed His mind. He doesn’t cease to be the gratuitous God that He is simply because we don’t always get as much as we want from Him. Any time we experience peace, glory, love, beauty, or any good thing, that’s the “more” of heaven breaking in. Whether it’s for 10 minutes or 10 hours, it’s a generous gift. God doesn’t have to let heaven break in at all, but He does. That’s the good God He is.

Also, the “something more” that He freely offers us is not always the “more” of this world. A babbling brook is evidence of a larger body of water. Heaven is the only place where all of our desires are ultimately and definitively fulfilled. It’s heaven we are made for, not all this, not even the cathedral pines.

When we step into that resplendent glory, there will be no doubt about the kind of God we have. Our task then is to trust that the 10 minutes we get aren’t proof of a God who offers just enough. Instead, they’re proof of a God who has a bounty of gifts ready and waiting.

 

Nicholas Hardesty

There are many falls on a pilgrimage. No one teaches us this more poignantly than Jesus. His humanity was on full display when He fell three times under the weight of the Cross, on His way to be crucified.

It’s both alarming and relatable to see the God-man fall and get back up again. He carried the heavy burden so that we can carry the light one. These falls are even memorialized in Stations 3, 7, and 9 of the Way of the Cross. But, would you be surprised to learn that the New Testament provides no clear reference to them?

It’s true – and I’m okay with that. For one, Jesus did many things that aren’t recorded in Scripture (John 21:25). Secondly, I think the three falls can be reasonably inferred from what we do see in Scripture. Jesus had already suffered significant physical and emotional trauma before He even started towards Golgotha. He sweat like blood (Luke 22:44). He was betrayed and abandoned (Matthew 26:48-49, 56). He was spit on, blindfolded, and beaten (Mark 14:65). He was scourged (Matthew 27:26). He was mocked and crowned with thorns (Matthew 27:29-31). Jesus must have been struggling to carry His Cross or the soldiers would not have asked Simon to carry it for Him (Mark 15:20-21).

As I consider the struggles in my own life, the fact of Jesus’ falling is powerfully instructive and inspiring to me. These events of His Passion have taught me so much that, biblical or not, I can’t help but believe them.

But There’s More

Recently, a good friend of mine asked me, “If you could use one word to describe your spiritual life, what would it be?” I said, “Tired.” Sometimes I think my whole spiritual and moral life can be summed up in the endless cycle of falling and getting back up again.

Fall. Get up. Fall. Get up. Fall. Get up.

It’s tiring! And on days when hopelessness creeps in, I think I’d rather either not fall, or not get up again. At least then the cycle would be over. I wouldn’t have to exhaust myself anymore. I wouldn’t have to try so hard anymore.

I poured all this out to my friend. He listened. He nodded. I could tell he understood. Then he spoke a powerful truth:

There’s more to your spiritual life, to morality, to being a Christian, than falling and getting back up again.

Behold the Man

This may seem like a no-brainer, but for me, at that moment, it was a revelation. Suffering can trick you into thinking that it’s all there is, and I was falling for it. As I prayed about it more, I realized that all I had to do was “behold the man” (John 19:5) to discover the truth of the matter.

Jesus’ Way to the Cross – and through the Cross to victory – was not solely made up of falling and getting back up again. Yes, He did that. But, Jesus also preached (Luke 23:28-31). He prophesied (Luke 23:43). He prayed (Luke 22:41-42). He cried (Hebrews 5:7). He healed (Luke 22:50-51). He served (John 13:3-5). He was strengthened (Luke 22:43) and defended (Luke 23:40-42). He forgave (Luke 23:34). He loved to the very end (John 15:13).

In this, Jesus teaches us how to walk our own Way, and in Him we learn that there is much more to life than striving. Yes, we fall. Yes, we get back up again. We should! But, with Jesus, we also rest. We listen. We learn and grow. We use our imagination and our unique gifts. We are strengthened and defended. We are humbled. We are forgiven. We are blessed. We are befriended. We love and are loved by Jesus. We are even victorious!

In Jesus, suffering cannot have the final say. In Jesus, there is always more to life – and I can assure you, there’s nothing more biblical than that.

 

Nicholas Hardesty

“I think we should join this pagan homeschool co-op” – those are words you don’t hear every day. Yet, sure enough, about two years ago my wife made that announcement from the other end of the house.

Sufficiently derailed from my work in the office, I joined her in the living room to try and make sense of this. We should join a what?

My wife laid out her reasoning:

• This family opens their home to other families once a week for social and educational activities
• Their website is cheerful and friendly
• They welcome all families: big ones, small ones, weird ones, messy ones
• They promptly replied to my wife’s request for more information
• They’re not trying to proselytize anyone
• It’s inexpensive
• It’s close to where we live

That all sounded great, but I couldn’t get past the “pagan” part. Exactly how pagan are they? Were there no Catholic co-ops we could join?

I was concerned, to say the least. But, after talking to the lady who runs the co-op and after researching other options in our area, my wife was convinced that this was worth a shot.

The Line

Before you can appreciate the impact of this decision, you need to know something about my family: We’re not easy to accommodate.

We’re loud. We’re messy. We’re awkward. We’re needy. We break things. We require heaps of mercy and forbearance.

As such, we’re always wondering, “Where’s the line?” What’s the mistake, the offense, or the misbehavior that will finally make people say, “Enough”? Sometimes we can foresee where the line will be, other times we have to feel it out and hope for the best.

Feeling Out the Pagans

When our family enters someone else’s space, we’re basically asking them, “Are we more important to you than your peace and quiet? Your sense of order? Your need to be in control? Even your prized possessions?”

Thanks be to God, when we entered this family’s home, they said yes every time, and they said it resoundingly. Far from just putting up with us, they have invited us to join them for trips to the zoo and backyard barbecues. My wife has made close friends with the moms in the group, and the other kids are always excited when my kids arrive.

Speaking of my kids, so far they have broken two glass lanterns, spilled tiki torch oil all over the family’s deck, eaten their food, invaded every room in their house, and even snuffed the life out of the pet goldfish (accidentally) and this family still – still – welcomes us with open arms.

Do you know what that’s called? Radical hospitality.

Defying Expectations

Radical hospitality is more than pointing in the direction of the coffee and donuts. Radical hospitality means making someone feel welcomed, valued, and affirmed far beyond expectations. It’s a hospitality that doesn’t count the cost. It’s a yes to the prospect of the other that establishes the other as the highest good.

This is the hospitality of Abram before the three visitors (Genesis 18:1-5), of Jesus at the feet of the apostles (John 13:3-5), of the master of the feast before the poor (Luke 14:12-14), of Mary before the transforming power of the Spirit (Luke 1:38).

What makes this hospitality so powerful and, ultimately, so healing is that it’s rare and it meets an intense desire. In a society that fosters egocentricity and obsessive cost calculation, it’s rare to be truly welcomed. It’s rare to be treated with the dignity you deserve. It’s rare to be genuinely loved – and at the end of the day, that’s all anyone really wants.

As Catholics, our families and our parishes are called to extend that kind of radical hospitality. Are you prepared to “remove your sandals before the sacred ground of the other” (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium, 169)? If not, why not?

It’s never too late to learn a thing or two from the pagans.

 

Nicholas Hardesty

The doctor reluctantly dialed the number. A recent patient had suffered terrible injuries playing baseball, and the doctor needed to inform the young man that his prognosis was grim. As the phone rang, the doctor searched for a gentle way to deliver the news. He decided to tell a joke:

Baseball player: “Doctor, will I ever play again?”
Doctor: “Well, I have good news and bad news.”
Baseball player: “What’s the good news?”
Doctor: “I heard they play baseball in heaven.”
Baseball player: “That’s great! What’s the bad news?”
Doctor: “You’re next up to bat.”

In hindsight, this was probably not the best approach, but as people called to proclaim the Gospel, we can relate to those who have good and bad news to tell.

The Bad News of the Gospel

It seems counterintuitive that the Gospel would contain bad news. Doesn’t the word “Gospel” mean “good news”? While the Gospel is certainly an announcement of great goodness, it also has a flip side, a warning to go with the promise.

The bad news of the Gospel has to do with the tragic realities that make the good news necessary: Evil is real. It destroys truth, happiness, peace, order, and life. It creates deception, suffering, division, chaos, disorder, and death. It wreaks havoc in the hearts and minds of individuals. It spreads to communities and infects even the natural world in which we live.

There are also lesser evils, things like mediocrity, laziness, selfishness, and half-heartedness. But, even these must be taken seriously. Lesser evils pave the way for greater ones. They ease the way towards our destruction. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one, the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”

Why the Bad News Is Necessary

The Gospel message acknowledges that sin is real, Hell is real, and our sins have consequences, both in this life and in the next.

This bad news is necessary because many people, including many Christians, have trouble facing the realities of sin. In the “shame culture” we live in, there’s no room for repentance and confession. The primary value is saving face. This means we go to great lengths to maintain appearances and avoid confronting the consequences of sin, both for ourselves and others.

If that weren’t enough, many of us don’t want to give up our sins. We like them too much. They bring us “comfort.” Sometimes, these sins are our only mechanisms for coping with the anxieties of life. We are attached to our sins and we can’t let go.

So, we deliver the bad news to awaken people to these realities. It’s a somber message, it’s not easy to preach, and we certainly don’t lead with it. But, it must be told.

Thankfully, there’s much more to the Gospel than that.

The Good News of the Gospel

If the Gospel was only bad news, then Adam and Eve’s story would have concluded with curses: “Snake, slither and eat dirt. Woman, feel pain in childbirth. Man, toil in the fields. The end.”

But, that wasn’t the end. Instead, God made a promise, which He put squarely to the serpent:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed;
he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15)

Theologians call this “the first Gospel,” and when we unpack it we can see why. Who is the “seed of a woman” who will crush the head of the serpent? Jesus. This means that God always desired to send us His Son to defeat sin, suffering, death, and every evil.

In Jesus we have the courage to confront our sins and the grace to overcome them.

In Jesus we have the strength to do good and resist evil.

In Jesus, we have the hope of eternal happiness.

That’s worth at least some pitch-and-catch with St. Peter.

 

Nicholas Hardesty