Sunday, October 16, 2005
Thinking about Hope  

In recent days, I have sensed the need to better understand the virtue of hope. It seems like of the three theological virtues, hope is the least understood in our modern era.

From a purely natural point of view, faith is grasped by most people. We simply understand that we must put our trust in someone or something outside of ourselves. Most people, if they are honest, realize that they are not able to journey through life "on their own". Along the way, they must believe in something outside of themselves that assists them, shapes the way they live, and provides them guidance. This is faith. However, it also becomes clear that there are many things in which we cannot place our trust. Ultimately, the Church teaches, we can understand through grace that God is calling us to Him through faith. He is calling us to believe in Him and all that He has revealed to us. The assurance in Him is because He is Truth. We can be confident that we are grasping the Truth when we lay hold of Him and commit all to Him. The tasks is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is the one which alone fulfills who we really are to become.

Charity, or more commonly, love, is a virtue which is much more difficult for us moderns to understand because there are so many confusing ideas about what love is. However, I would suggest that there are many very good examples of what love truly is. Everyone can conceive of Blessed Mother Teresa's love. We recognize that she truly loved those whom she served. The late John Paul the Great is another example. Many may have disagreed with his firm proclamation of the teaching of the Church, but few would deny that he loved people. His countless trips around the globe demonstrated how he loved people and wanted them to have better lives because their lives were transformed by the Truth.

Closer to home, we recognize the love of parents for their children. We are able to understand that love, not the devil, is in the details. Love cares about the details of our lives. So the parent who does the mundane tasks of raising children is truly the example of love. The parent is able to grasp at some level that God is in that small task of fixing a sandwich or remembering a detail of a child's day. God wants to be there so He has placed the parent there to be His instrument for being there for the child.

The challenge for us moderns is to understand this self donating love as a model for the entirety of our lives. It is not a small portion. Instead it should be the very mark of our lives. The confusion surrounding our understanding of love is that we think it is something, when in reality it is Someone. Someone who loves us and wants us to participate in His love and to share it with others.

Hope might be the most difficult for us to grasp. At least in the English language, hope is sort of a wistful desire that something will be a certain way. For example, "I certainly hope it does not rain." The fact is the weather will be what it will be, and hope has little to do with it. Here is what the Catechism says about hope,
Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful."(Heb 10:23) "The Holy Spirit . . . he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life." (Titus 3:6-7)

The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.

Source: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1817-1818
I suppose that the problem we have understanding hope is that we moderns have no concept of heaven and eternal life. If we do believe in it, it all seems so dull compared to what is happening right now. Heaven is out there somewhere at some time in the future. Sure we would like to go to heaven, because if there is a hell, it does seem a worse alternative. But we have no idea what heaven is about.

I remember hearing in school that historically movements of religion that focused on the afterlife occurred when the lives of people were essentially miserable. I would consider this the extreme, but there is an important point in this idea. If we rightly understand the suffering in our lives, we will naturally desire the "correcting" of all of these troubles. In other words, we know at some level that sin has marred things, and we also know that this is not the way things are supposed to be. Through hope, we trust in God's promise of the Kingdom of Heaven, and we look forward the re-establishment of the way things are supposed to be.

My understanding is that hope is best understood through suffering. That is why it can be difficult for us to understand this virtue. We are trying to avoid suffering in our lives. This is so much the case, that it is almost seems that it is our single most important goal in American society, in particular. The irony is that each of us is suffering quite a bit. However, we simply endure it with gritted teeth or cover it over with some other thing and declare freedom from the tyranny of suffering. Growing up, this was the lesson I was taught, and it is only in recent years that I have begun to open myself up to embracing the suffering in my life and using it as a vehicle for growth.

As someone has said, acceptance is the key to mental health. A real understanding of hope begins when we accept the reality of our lives with all of the suffering we experience. Such acceptance makes God's offer of heaven much more meaningful. It also opens us up to a "real" relationship with Him because we realize that He allows that suffering. The full understanding of that idea can either drive us closer to Him or make us pull away from such a God who would allow such suffering. For us moderns, it is that dividing line that might keep us from even seeking to understand what hope is.

Posted by David at 9:30 AM  |  Comments (0)  | 


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