Rediscovering Hope

The last time I wrote for this space, I talked about contrition and what it may look like lived out by someone faithfully following Christ or striving to do so. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, surely there is no doubt of the applicability of that particular topic.

Another characteristic about the Church’s understanding of Divine Mercy has to do with the theological virtue of hope. We haven’t spoken of much of this virtue in these pages over the years, and perhaps the Church and the world may have forgotten or overlooked it, as well.

This oversight is a great shame, because aside from being one of the three chief virtues of the Christian life — and indeed of the very Kingdom itself — hope is absolutely pivotal in these days. I’ll risk a bit of my “cool points” by revealing that I am a tremendous fan of the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien, who as a Catholic penned one of the seminal fantasy stories of the last few centuries, and possibly the most famous in living memory.

While Tolkien rather vehemently asserted that his story is not to be understood allegorically, that is, as a direct metaphor for Christian life or actual events, his writing betrays a very lively and Catholic concept of hope. It is this hope which makes the great triumph in his story possible, as without this virtue, the various quests undertaken by the forces of good could never have met with success.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church thus describes hope in paragraph 1817:

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.” 84 “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.”

One of my favorite ways to learn the faith is to unpack paragraphs such as these in more bite-sized chunks, wherein the concepts might not appear so lofty or remote. So, here we go…

First, we need to reckon what a theological virtue is. Here I’ll paraphrase paragraph 1812 by saying merely that the theological virtues are those that connect us directly to the Divine and make possible a relationship with God. As an aside, if you want to strengthen your relationship with God, seek out ways to cultivate the theological virtues — faith, hope, and love.

Hope is the gift by which we not only believe in God’s promises and power, but trust them, leaning upon them for real support. Having accepted them to be true, we put weight on them, as a cane or walking aid, exercising faith by taking God at his word. Specifically, hope is lived out by trusting Christ and his promises as actual truth and factual beyond the need for proof.

In the first reading today, we read of Abraham and Sarah, to whom God promises a son despite their advanced age. When she scoffs at this prospect (outside the scope of the verses prescribed for this week), the guests Abraham entertains at the mouth of his tent in the story we read today simply contend, in other words, “Is there anything God can’t do?” (paraphrasing Genesis 18:14)

Likewise, hope crops up in the second reading, as Paul writes, “It is Christ in you, the hope for glory. (Colossians 1:27)” In this epistle, Paul writes to Gentiles — we can read that word as “us,” for we are not of the Jewish people, the original chosen people — that glory is possible because Christ is at work in them (us). This is a great cause for hope.

Hope animates us and excites virtuous and morally upstanding living in us. Christ in his sufferings, as well as in his great works of power, is living out his own life in the Baptized. As I write, I can hardly sit still at this thought!

What does hope do for our relationship to mercy? It means we are not mere beggars and wretches in the Kingdom of the Blessed One. We are not slaves, but friends. We are raised with Christ. We are the very bride for whom God laid down his life.

How do we know? How can we dare to believe such amazing things to be true?

“He who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)” And again, “the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. (Philippians 1:6)” Are we ready for heaven here and now? No, but we will be in time, and that is mercy indeed.


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