The Very Work of Hope

Madeleine Delbrêl was a young French poet and atheist who underwent a radical conversion to Catholicism when she was 20, and that led her to found, in 1933, a gospel community of lay women dedicated to poverty, chastity, and work among the poor. She’s often compared with her American contemporary, Dorothy Day. The introduction to her extraordinary book of powerful reflections, We, the Ordinary People of the Streets, contained an observation of a poor woman of the streets who offered a vivid description of her:

“If you are destitute, broken, wounded, or if you have suffered an injustice, her eyes widen and grow dark blue, almost black; her entire body stiffens, as if getting ready to make a move, to act, to defend.” The woman goes on to say, “And you have to give your assent, because what she does is truly the most important activity in the world, and you yourself have already been its beneficiary: she is digging holes with a child’s pail in the vast sand of human suffering, in order to bring forth springs that will never run dry. It is, indeed, the very work of Hope.”

In those words I hear an echo of Pax et Bonum Communications’ mission: to make films that defend the destitute, broken and wounded…and to offer hope to a suffering world. Despite that lofty goal, I’m fully aware of how insignificant we are. We are so small and inconsequential we don’t even have to try to be humble. We work very hard and with inadequate funding in order to change a few hearts, to offer a little hope. We have no big distribution deals, no TV broadcast dates. We have only enough funds in the bank to cover the next two months of operating costs. Once the Haiti film, Mud Pies & Kites, is manufactured (June 7th), we will sell a few films and give many away. Besides making the films, I give a few presentations at universities and churches. During the last four weeks of Lent, I gave my “poverty and prayer” presentations at churches, high schools and colleges in Los Angeles, Chicago, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Rochester, New York and Bloomington, Illinois. During those nine events, about 3,325 teenagers and adults heard our message. Still, sometimes I think it’s not worth the Herculean effort…and all the time spent in airports and on planes. But I quickly realize our job is not to judge the fruits of our labor, but simply to work, to faithfully and diligently plant seeds…and leave the rest to God. And for me, these films, including the new film set in a refugee camp in Kenya, are the most important activity in the world, because I believe God has called me to make them, to give voice to the voiceless, to give hope to the hopeless. The struggle against injustice is intertwined with our own struggle to enter into a true and full relationship with God. I pray that when people look at the work of the PetB, they may say, “Theirs is the very work of Hope.” And our work will be judged not by how many films we sold, but how faithful our films were to the Gospel. The Gospel is an urgent call to radicalism: to love all, without exception, without counting the cost.

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