Vincent Nichols, Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, came to office surrounded by much hope. Here was an experienced communicator, used to appearing on television and radio and apparently at ease with doing so. He had a reputation for being modern in his thinking and was armed with an easy charm and warm manner. Vincent Nichols seemed the very model of a modern church leader and a shoe in to be the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. He seemed a worthy successor to Cardinals Basil Hume and Cormac Murphy O’Connor who did so much to move the Catholic Church into the mainstream of British public life.
In Hope In Action Vincent Nichols draws together his thinking, his teaching, in a compelling series of chapters. From the start he distinguishes between hope and optimism: “Hope is not the same as optimism. Optimism is a disposition ‘to whistle a merry tune’, ‘to look on the bright side’, however irrational, whatever the state of things. It may or may not be realistic. Hope is something else.” He then addresses the key issues challenging us today. Much emphasis is placed on mercy – as an act, an attitude, an approach – which the Cardinal credits to Pope Francis. The Pope was inspired to take this approach by Cardinal Walter Kasper whose book Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to Christian Life is well worth reading.
Nichols deploys scripture, theologians and philosophers to sustain and enrich his argument that Christian Hope is the journey that is worth choosing. Coming from a cardinal, of course, this is not a surprise. This book though is worth reading even if you are not interested in Christian faith but are simply interested in the discussion about how to respond to the ever-changing world around us. The book is a lucid and uncomplicated account of the issues and responses. Unlike its evangelical cousins, who all too often want to offer up easy simple answers, the Catholic Church more often responds by suggesting how one might discern a response. Or to put it another way encourages people to think for themselves rather than simply spoon-feed them an answer. Hope In Action is a book very much in the tradition of encouraging, challenging and supporting people in their thinking. In that of course the Cardinal is very much following the example of his Jesuit boss.
Since his elevation we have seen less of Vincent Nichols on our screens and heard him less on the airwaves. This is a pity. There is an ever-increasing need for the Catholic Church to take on the burden and the responsibility of contributing to the national debate in the public arena. This book, a slimmish volume at just over 80 pages, is a valuable and stimulating contribution to how we might approach our thinking.