Hope’s Eternal Spring


At the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel told Mary that she was about to receive a great blessing, if she would accept it – to become the Virgin Mother of the Messiah. A great blessing, indeed, but one that, from a temporal perspective, would bring her public disgrace, shame her family, might drive off her betrothed, and even make her subject to execution by stoning. One could easily have understood if she wanted a few days to think about this particular blessing. But Mary just said, “Be it done unto me according to your word.” She knew when to leave the details to God, however scary they might be.

When she heard that her older cousin, Elizabeth, was having a late in life pregnancy – always potentially difficult – Mary set off on a difficult journey of at least several days across the hill country to help Elizabeth. One might think Mary would have found someone else to go. After all, she was to be Mother of Our Lord, the King of Kings. A bit fancy to be nursemaid to an older, pregnant woman. Or she might have thought that, well, if God has done this, He will see to it. Heaven knows that in modern times, only routine savage indifference to the unborn would prevent the cult of perpetually alarmed women from turning Mary in to social services for endangering her child with such a difficult walking journey. But Mary did not just know when to leave the details to God; she also knew that we are the instruments through which He normally accomplishes His will. So she set out on foot and did what she could. She was, as Gabriel aptly noted, “full of grace.”

Many readers have been deeply troubled by my assertion that, before our rescue, all will lose hope, including me. It is a deeply troubling statement. I accepted it because everything my angel has told me directly has been true. He says many things in enigmatic ways – and leaves it to me to interpret as best I can. Often he says things that seem plain, but are open to interpretation. I used to get those wrong almost all the time. Now I get them right a little more than I get them wrong, simply because I have been working at it for decades and know how quickly my mind leaps to comfortable, human conclusions rather than penetrating deeper into the depths of eternity. I don’t feel bad. I know how little I understand and how quickly I am liable to go tearing up blind alleys. Even the greatest saints were prone to the same thing. A few weeks before her execution, St. Joan of Arc excitedly told some visitors to her in prison that Sts. Catherine and Elizabeth had told her she would be freed – and even the date of her release. As it turned out, she was right. The date they told her was the date of her execution. Probably not what she had expected, but true, nonetheless. But there are things he tells me plainly and then emphasizes that there is no variant interpretation to be sought. This is one of those things.

One of the most subtle, but enduring, impediments to union with God is our nearly unshakeable and unwarranted confidence in our capacity as intellectual architects. Give us the seed of just a little accurate information and our minds go to work setting up all manner of scenarios – and very rarely do any of them bear much resemblance to what God actually intends. Even worse, we start to vigorously and heatedly dispute with each other over whose scenario is right, acting completely contrary to God’s will, rather than humbly waiting for Him. I use the word, “seed,” deliberately. Which of us, if we knew nothing about plants, farming or botany, could accurately deduce God’s intention from a seed? Who could look at a piece of corn and deduce a tassled field? Or a dot of tomato seed and imagine a plant laden with juicy, ripe fruit? Or a little acorn and see a mighty oak? Not one of us could imagine any of these things if we did not already know, from experience, that that is what they will become. So why do we waste so much time deducing the details of each of God’s new plans when all we have to go on is a seed we have no previous experience of? Why are we so slow to learn that when God speaks on these matters, says “Behold, I am doing something new,” it is not a confirmation that our brilliant minds will deduce from the seed what the plant will be? Rather, it is an invitation to pay attention and watch with gratitude and wonder as His latest seed springs forth, grows, spreads leaves and bears fruit.

During the time of His public ministry on earth, only two things caused Jesus’ disciples to dispute with Him. He occasionally told them how feeble they were, that their faith would be shaken, that they would be turned over to satan for a time who would sift them like wheat, that they would be scattered in panic when the Shepherd was struck, that one would deny Him and another, betray Him. Almost anytime He said such a thing, whichever of the Apostles He spoke with would vigorously – sometimes hotly – dispute with Him. It would never happen to them, their faith was much too strong, their courage too great, their fortitude endless. But as always, He was right and they were not. Whenever He spoke of His impending passion and death, it was almost guaranteed to spark dissension in His ranks. Death was a bad thing and the intellectual architecture of His disciples minds was scarcely capable of conceiving of any good that was not solidly grounded in the transient goods of this world. The idea that He had come to conquer death, itself, by passing through it just as Moses had passed through the Red Sea to carry the Israelis to freedom, was beyond them. Once again, He was right, they were wrong.

Even so, Jesus did not expose their frailty to them in order to crush them. Rather, it was to burn away the subtle vestiges of vanity that caused them to trust to their own counsel rather than waiting for His wisdom to sprout leaves. It was a sort of innoculation…and once the Apostles saw how little, how silly, and how frail they really were, they became useful tools in the hands of the Master and became great. There was still no visible, temporal kingdom for centuries. Christians were persecuted, tortured and killed. But they did not again scatter. Indeed, as it has been said, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

Thirty years ago I thought my visitations were most likely just the way my mind processed a very powerful intuitive capacity. Twenty years ago, that confidence had become badly frayed, for there were too many things that even the most tortured explanation could not credibly attribute to intuition. By 12 years ago I knew that the only credible rational explanation for my experiences was that they are authentic. (No matter how hard anyone works at trying to discredit me, as my priests know, you will have to work long and hard to catch up to how hard I tried to discredit myself). If true, I always knew it entailed a certain responsibility. But even then (and even now) I was occasionally assailed by doubt. But I had set safeguards in place, I assiduously took counsel, and I submitted these things to officials of the Church. I came to think that doubt was no longer an integral tool of discernment, but a temptation to evade a responsibility I had freely accepted. How to deal with it?

I began to ask myself what difference it really made now whether I was right or wrong? I had submitted to authority that would guide me; I could see I had ignited hope in many around me; even many of those who think I am a bit nutty value my counsel; and even public enemies had often quietly approached me when they were hurt badly for comfort and encouragement – which I always gave. If I had misunderstood everything, I was still living as a sign of hope – and I was content with that. I was committed and would follow my course, subject to the safeguards already in place. Since then, doubts come, but they roll off me like water on a duck. They just don’t matter and don’t impede my work at all – and it gives me such a wonderful opportunity to really live my old priest’s wisdom, that faith is an act of the will.

Since full acceptance, many striking paradoxes have arisen. Since I know how little I understand and how prone I am to misinterpret, the Lord has shown me more details of what must be. When I was more certain of my own prowess, I did not do enough but prayed to know more. Now I pray to know less and do more. I know a universe more than I did when I was 15, but a lot less than I thought I did at that age. And then, real wisdom: the only motivation sufficient to sustain a Godly purpose is love. The ONLY motivation. Ambition won’t do it, vanity wilts quickly, greed is never satisfied, vengeance never sates. Only love endures.

If your children are in a second-floor bedroom of a house that is on fire, would you spend your time arguing with another spectator over whether the fire began in the kitchen or the porch, was an electrical or a grease fire? You would know such disputes at such a time for the useless vanity they are. Would you only try to rescue your kids if you could figure out a way that would spare you any discomfort? Would you spend your time pondering what the insurance will cover? No, you would rush in to rescue your kids or die trying. It is not vanity, ambition, or greed that would propel you to such a self-sacrificial act of heroism – but your love for your children. Begin to see mankind as your family, the family of the One Father, and you will have begun to put away foolish things.

In her captivity, St. Joan of Arc feared, that under the extremis of torture, she might repudiate the faith or God. She had no illusions that she was an unbreakable rock. So she told visitors that if that happened, know that it was the torture speaking through her weakness and did not reflect her will or faith. Any of us can lose temporal hope. I am told all of us will and I believe it. But that does not mean you cannot live what you have always proclaimed, not if faith is an act of the will. And in the process of burning away the last vanity of our self-sufficiency, God will not destroy, but perfect, our hope.

Let us return to the Annunciation and the Visitation for a moment. Only one person has ever figured this out without me telling him – and oh, how delighted I was when he did! When Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord,” she was acknowledging God. When she said, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” she resolved to take the next, right step. When she went to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, to help with that late in life pregnancy, she was being a sign of hope. My formula, “Acknowledge God; take the next right step; and be a sign of hope to those around you,” is a Marian practice. I think of it as my little way of Stella Maris. May we all be filled with grace.

About charliej373

Charlie Johnston is a former newspaper editor, radio talk show host and political consultant. From Feb. 11, 2011 to Aug. 21, 2012, he walked 3,200 miles across the country, sleeping in the woods, meeting people and praying as he went. He has received prophetic visitation all his life, which he has vetted through a trio of priests over the last 20 years, and now speaks publicly about on this site. Yet he emphasizes that we find God most surely through the ordinary, doing the little things we should with faith and fidelity. Hence the name, The Next Right Step. The visitations inform his work, but are not the focus of it. He lives in the Archdiocese of Denver in the United States.
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18 Responses to Hope’s Eternal Spring

  1. Well stated; ever clinging to temporal hope is merely vain optimism — worldliness — we see the fruits of this when loving (but misguided) family members never stop telling a cancer patient that he will recover… even when that is contrary to all reason … and then death takes him by surprise, and he hasn’t prepared.

    True hope, on the other hand (supernatural hope, that is) has as its object salvation, not temporal things or worldly survival. It is a theological virtue and infused by the Holy Spirit, and we must never cease trusting that He will always bestow it upon us if we remain open to it.

    I very much appreciate the advice in this article. Let we who see the signs of the times not squabble, rather let us do all we can to spread God’s mercy before the Time of Mercy is utterly spent, which will be soon.


  2. Jennifer says:

    Just beautiful Charlie. Thank you. In your opinion does the number 11 mean anything? I am seeing it with alarming (and creepy) frequency. In my heart I think it is a warning that the hour is late (11th). Have you had any experience with this?


    • charliej373 says:

      Well, Jennifer, I am very cautious of anything that smacks of a cabalistic interpretation of numerology or secret codes. BUT, God speaks to us in little whispers in things we know – and it often has profound significance. A dear friend was brought into a certain wisdom through someone asking for Number 11 – which was my friend’s old number when he played sports in school. For a good chunk of my pilgrimage as I went through Alabama and Mississippi was along Rte. 11. I know the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes, Feb. 11, is very important to me – and a date on which I usually get an important visitation or the meaning of some seeming temporal disaster or triumph is made clear to me. I do not spend time worrying about the significance to anyone except the significance it has to me. So, yes, if the same thing keeps presenting itself to you over and over, I would not ignore it…but look beyond the symbol itself to what it signifies. Are you doing the same thing when it presents itself?…those sort of questions. Best of all, ask your guardian angel to help you see what it signifies and how you should respond.


  3. Judy says:

    I have alluded to great trials in my life. Oh, there has always been difficult to treat illnesses, but there was much more. At one time I was greatly hated and tormented at work and living a nightmare in my person life as well (after work). After nine months of fear, frustration and loneliness, I entered a church and spoke to God after dropping my son off at elementary school
    (so I was sure of the time). I said, “Lord, people say I should do this or that (legal action) , but I do not want to do that. You know how tired I am. You know every word and deed of my life. If, for some reason, you want me to continue this suffering, I will do it. But I know you can deliver me if that is your will.” I truly sought His will. I did not go into work that day, but stayed home to rest. The next day I went to work. I was astounded at what I found out: At the very moment I said my prayer, there were finally real steps taken to stop the madness and persecution. To my mind, this was a great miracle. I shared my experience with the upper management of this huge American corporation. I told them that we had angels walking with us on that day. They knew me to be true to my word, and I am absolutely sure that they believed me. I am still in awe of God’s ways.


  4. Stephen Maresch says:

    I hate to be the fly in the ointment, but I am still troubled by that statement. Your analogy of the Apostles losing faith would be correct for all but John, remember he stayed close to the Blessed Mother and they all had not recieved the Holy Spirit yet which gave them courage later. So are you saying that the Spirit will be taken from us so we all lose Hope?
    If we lose hope of our own ability to go on we are presuming on our own power, and if we lose hope that God will save us then are we not despairing of Gods power. The only hope I could see us rightly losing is the hope of our own power to get through it. I know heavenly messages are sometimes criptic just as Joan of Arc thought she was going to be freed her messengers were talking about freedom from this life.

    2091 The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption: (1864)

    By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice—for the Lord is faithful to his promises—and to his mercy.

    2092 There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit). (2732)


  5. Judy says:

    Mother Teresa of Calcutta said God spoke to her and asked her to minister to the poorest of the poor. But, when Mother Teresa was in the slums of India, she said in her diary that she could no longer feel God’s presence. This was a long, dark night of the soul. The mind knows that Christ is still there, but the heart and soul suffer because He does not feel close. In face, He seemed absent. For some reason, sometimes God recedes. Though He is still at our side, we feel alone. Mother Teresa faithfully continued her mission, though she felt much spiritual dryness. Her faithfulness was an act of the will. I think that this is what the archangel means by loss of hope.


  6. Judy says:

    Mother Teresa’s letters to her spiritual directors over the years are filled with references to “interior darkness,” to feeling unloved by God and even to the temptation to doubt that God exists.

    She wrote to her spiritual director in a 1959-60 spiritual diary, “In my soul, I feel just the terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me, of God not being God, of God not really existing.”

    In another letter she wrote that she wanted to love God “like he has not been loved,” and yet she felt her love was not reciprocated.

    In the context of Mother Teresa’s life, the thoughts are not heresy, but signs of holiness, Father Kolodiejchuk said in a late-February interview (2002).

    Mother Teresa was convinced God existed and had a plan for her life, even if she did not feel his presence, the priest said.

    “Everyone wants to share, to talk about things, to be encouraged by others,” he said, but Mother Teresa, “hurting on the inside, kept smiling, kept working, kept being joyful.”


  7. Janet says:

    This thread reminds me of an Advent experience I had several years ago. It was a time of great personal trial for me. Our business was failing and the future seemed far from certain. It was at this very low point of my life, during Advent, that God withdrew from me any smidgen of evidence that he was there. I had no comfort. Prayer was a chore. I felt heavy. It was a feeling that went beyond the circumstances of my life. Spiritually speaking, it was a dark night.

    There was one prayer I prayed over and over, but even that I prayed without feeling. It was from Psalm 116, vs 10: “I trusted, even when I said, ‘I am sorely afflicted.'” It was a prayer of the will, not the heart. But it was all I could muster, and I clung to it.

    It was a long, dry Advent for me. I could not look forward to Christmas in any way. When I went to confession, even though I had not told the priest about my darkness, he made this comment out of the blue, “I see a baby. Why don’t you invite the Infant Jesus into your heart this Christmas.”

    I did not give his words much thought. I felt they were far too simplistic for what I was going through. Then, the newsletter of my lay association came out. In the administrator’s column, lo! and behold, he also encouraged everyone to invite the Infant Jesus into our hearts at Christmas.

    Okay,okay, I’ll do it, I thought. Something simple can always be tried, I suppose. But, like Naaman, I didn’t hold out much hope.

    I dragged myself to Christmas Eve mass even though I had no heart for it. After communion I decided to try the “simple thing”. I invited the Infant Jesus into my heart. At that very moment, the darkness lifted. The Light was back! I could not believe or understand it, but there it was! My life circumstances had not changed, in fact they got worse after that, but my Jesus was back in my heart! With unprecedented joy my heart sang, “Glory to God in the highest! And peace to his people on earth!” My prayer of trust had been answered most spectacularly in my very own Christmas miracle!


  8. Janet says:

    Lessons: 1. Something simple can always be tried as with Naaman – see 2 Kings, Chapter 5.
    2. Trust, always trust! 3. It is when we feel Him the least that He is most near. 4. Pray, especially when you don’t feel like it.


    • charliej373 says:

      How glorious – and immediate – when the light bursts forth to banish the darkness. And how I love the tale of Naaman (2 Kings 5: 1-19)! He nearly forfeited the grace God offered him because of his vanity in refusing to consider something common and homely. A powerful lesson there. If God moves in the booming thunder, you are not likely to miss it. But He usually comes in the little whisper. May we each listen for – and recognize – it.


  9. Kathy AE says:

    Venerable Conchita (Mexican wife, mother, grandmother, and mystic) tells us that “The virtue of supernatural and perfect hope consists in yearning constantly for the possession of the Beloved….” It seems clear that with devastating circumstances, all will lose temporal hope. TEMPORAL refers to TIME, thus this hope is of time, pertaining to time, fruitful only in time. When all seems lost, no one will have expectation of “good things”. So all hope will certainly seem lost; but the theological, supernatural virtue of hope which pertains only to eternity and our longing for God will certainly be sustained, since it is a gift of grace given us for our union with God. We may not feel anything, but all is in the will, as others have commented. With all temporal things lost to us, won’t we long and yearn even more for the Beloved, our God and His Kingdom? More than anything else at this time, we must work on our union with the Beloved, increasing our faith, hope, and love so that when the darkness falls, we will be able to move forward, ever yearning and reaching out to God who truly will be our only hope.


  10. Anne says:



  11. Anne Archer says:

    You touch on a very tender spot with this column. From an early age the scripture verse about “if ;possible even the elect will be fooled” (and I don’t know just which book and verse it is – but it is there) has been a fearful one to me. One of my constant prayers is that I not be fooled. At 75 I know there have been times when I got off on the wrong path and getting back to the right one not only involved turning around but undoing consequences of the wrong choice. I can only trust that my desire to follow Jesus and His dear mother will count even if I make a wrong choice and that should it be a wrong choice that it will be easily discernible and redeemable.


    • charliej373 says:

      Ah yes, Anne, something of real concern. But when you truly give it over to God in trust, you can count on two things. First, you will still often make mistakes – but you will also never be deceived. For when, with humility, you do your very best, but trust God in the results He sends, He will carry you back to safety and cause even your mistakes to bear fruit. The satan can deceive ANYONE – but it is only when we adopt a vain reliance on our own wisdom that we take ourselves out from under the umbrella of God’s protection. That is why I worry when someone puts their emphasis on building a complex and detailed interpretation of prophecy or searches for secret codes in Scripture. They are trusting to their own brilliance to outwit satan and their house is built on sand. Satan cannot long deceive the simplest person who trusts in and leaves all to God. He can easily deceive – and make a profitable tool – of the greatest genius who trust primarily to his own genius. God never lets us fall innocently into a snare He won’t pull us out of.


  12. CrewDog says:

    Here is a Good News story that proves that God works in mysterious ways in odd places!!😉

    “Grateful Mom Posts Photo of ‘Stranger’ Playing With Her Adopted Special-Needs Son at Texas Rodeo. It Gets Even Better When She Learns Who He Is.”




  13. CrewDog says:

    I still think we need a “Thread” called HAPPY SIGNS:

    “Photo of Couple’s Touching Moment Following Horrific Car Accident Has Gone Viral — Here’s the Reason She Says She’d Go Through It All Again”




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