What is Hope?
It’s easy to take the virtue of hope for granted. We know it’s one of the three theological virtues (faith, hope and charity), but we often assume that it’s a natural by-product of faith and leave it at that. When we do reflect on the supernatural virtue of hope, we rightly consider the connection of faith with our hope in eternal life, but don’t generally dig deeper into the concept of hope – or attempt to apply it to our everyday lives.
And yet, recent popes have placed a tremendous emphasis on hope. They have sought to show us that hope plays an integral role in our spiritual life. It is a practical reality that makes us different people.
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. – The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1817
Hope always looks toward our ultimate destiny. It requires us to place our trust in Christ rather than in our own strength. Hope leads us to a new vision of reality which has the power to order everything in our lives according to what really matters, keeping life’s anxieties and cares in their proper perspective.
The idea that hope is a choice, something which requires our cooperation with God’s grace, is a life-changing concept – one that has been powerfully articulated in God and the Atom by Fr. Ronald Knox (a friend of G.K. Chesterton):
Hope is something that is demanded of us; it is not, then, a mere reasoned calculation of our chances. Nor is it merely the bubbling up of a sanguine temperament; if it is demanded of us, it lies not in the temperament but in the will… Hoping for what? For deliverance from persecution, for immunity from plague, pestilence, and famine…? No, for the grace of perservering in his Christian profession, and for the consequent achievement of a happy immortality. Strictly speaking, then, the highest exercise of hope, supernaturally speaking, is to hope for perseverance and for Heaven when it looks, when it feels, as if you were going to lose both one and the other. (pg. 115)
When hope underlies everything we do, it helps move us in the right direction, always focused on our final goal of heaven. Hope is not a guarantee that God will shield us form suffering and sorrow. Rather, hope is God’s promise that He will be there to enable us to meet the challenges of the Gospel, to overcome difficulties, and to “be not afraid” even in times of difficulty. In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, St. John Paul the Great addresses this:
The Gospel is certainly demanding. We know that Christ never permitted His disciples and those who listened to Him to entertain any illusions about this. On the contrary, He spared no effort in preparing them for every type of internal or external difficulty, always aware of the fact that they might well decide to abandon Him. Therefore, if He says, “Be not afraid!” He certainly does not say it in order to nullify in some way that which He has required. Rather, by these words He confirms the entire truth of the Gospel and all the demands it contains. At the same time, however, He reveals that His demands never exceed man’s abilities. If man accepts these demands with an attitude of faith, he will also find in the grace that God never fails to give him, the necessary strength to meet those demands. (pgs. 222-223)
The One Who Has Hope Lives Differently
Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only ‘good news’ – the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only ‘informative’ but ‘performative.’ That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known – it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life. – Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, No. 2
Nurturing Hope in Our Children
We offer this hope to our children, first through the simple gifts of love, patience and joy. Perhaps they may not seem like much, but when these are missing, the consequences can be dire indeed.
Cardinal Ratzinger, in Seek That Which Is Above, tells a story about a generation of young people who grew up during wartime and did not understand hope. He reminds us of this important truth: “The person who has never experienced goodness and kindness simply does not know what such things are.” (pgs. 9-10)
The Season of Advent
Throughout the season of Advent we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child. We do this by recalling the waiting of the faithful of the Old Testament for a Redeemer and by looking forward to the coming of Christ’s Kingdom, as poetically foretold by the Prophet Isaiah:
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them. The cow and the bear shall graze, together their young shall lie down; the lion shall eat hay like the ox. The baby shall play by the viper’s den, and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair. They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea. – Isaiah 11:6-9
Like the faithful of the Old Testament, we look forward with hope in God to a future that is peaceful and good, in spite of the evil that surrounds us today.
History and Hope:
We know that life experience tends to develop wisdom. History allows us to tap into the “life experience” of humanity even as we would listen to and learn from the wisdom of a grandparent or older friend.
Studying history provides perspective in understanding the world today. Those who don’t study history can conclude that things used to be great but that it’s all a hopeless mess now. This overly-pessimistic attitude often leads to a sense of complacency rather than a willingness to cooperate in our own small way with God’s plan. The truth is that mankind has battled with (and sometimes lost to) great evil ever since the Fall.
History helps us to avoid the mistakes of others, to recognize errors in thinking that are not-at-all-new and to have real hope that God raises up ordinary men and women in every generation to be saints and heroes who work to counteract evil and help bring God’s love to the world.
Bringing Hope to a Dark World
One is entitled to think that the future of humanity is in the hands of those who are capable of providing the generations to come with reasons for life and optimism.
– The Catechism of the Catholic Church #1917