Day 19: Don’t Abandon Hope

When I was a senior in college, I participated in the long-standing tradition of decorating the campus during what we called “Senior Night.” Meant to be a prank (but one that the entire college community knew about, of course), the seniors would leave their dormitories in the middle of the night and barricade the humanities building. The rule was this: if the faculty could retrieve the key from the seniors by 8:00 a.m., classes would be held that day—if not, classes were cancelled. Being faculty, and by nature much smarter than a crowd of twenty-one year olds, they almost always managed to regain the key and enter the very aptly-named Warfield Hall. In retaliation, the seniors decorated their professors’ offices and classrooms so that the mischief continued even if classes were held.

My senior year was a difficult one, for various reasons. I had a bad case of senioritis. I worked hard, but I had lost my enthusiasm for my coursework. My contribution to the decorations reflected this. Above the doorway of Warfield, I strung a banner that read: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.” This phrase, from The Inferno, the first volume of The Divine Comedy, is admittedly very despairing. The fourteenth-century Italian poem is an allegory of the soul’s journey to God, but it begins with what seems to be a promise of certain doom. As Dante, the author and narrator, descends into hell, he reads the inscription above the gate and takes it to heart (Inferno Canto 3:9).

There will be lots of times in our lives when we think we’ve encountered that figurative inscription—abandon all hope, ye who enter here—over whatever threshold we’re about to cross, but the promise of living hope assures us that no situation is ever hopeless if we center our lives around Christ. As I recall that Senior Night, and whatever despair I might have felt that prompted me to make that banner, I remind myself that I’ve been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). That phrase, “living hope,” is something we believers possess, but it’s also something we enact. I’m living hope because I have to make a conscious effort to renew it day by day, month by month, semester by semester. And by doing so, I look forward to “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading”—i.e. the inheritance of eternal life.

When Dante encountered that hopeless inscription at the gates of hell, he fainted. But later in The Divine Trilogy, Dante arrives in Paradise and is praised by its inhabitants for the strength of his hope. Remember Dante’s story during periods of your life that seem hopeless, and remember that living hope, as Peter tells us, brings us closer to eternal life in Christ.

Written by Jessica Mazaheri, Director of the Educational Resource Center