A pilgrim’s note
Fausto Gomez, OP
I have this habit since I was young. Every summer vacation (or on especial occasions or events of life) I examine my human hopes and, particularly, my Christian hope. This meditation – or dreaming awakened – has helped me, I think, animate and renew my hopes and my hope.
Human life is a narrative of hopes in the plural (human hopes) and of hope in the singular (Christian or theological hope). Our life is a journey on the way to different possible destinations. No temporal destination, however, can fully satisfy our longing for happiness – for heaven. And the journey of hope continues!
We Christians believe that as children of God we are on the way to the house of the Father, as St. John Paul II loved to say. As citizens of this world and of heaven, Christians with other believing peoples are asked to give a reason for their hope (I Pet 3:15) – for their hope in heaven! It appears that some Christians today are unable to give a convincing reason for their hope. Charles Peguy continues to be right: “Hope, little hope, moves forward between her two big sisters, and nobody notices her.”
Faith, Hope and Charity
God’s radical gift to us is grace, which heals and elevates our being to divine life. The grace of the Father through Jesus in the Spirit is a share in the very nature of God and makes us new creatures, children of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus and of one another, temples of the Blessed Trinity and co-heirs of heaven (cf. Rom 8:15-17).
Rooted in grace, the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity are three ways of responding to God: faith is the root of Christian life; hope is its orientation and charity, its substance (Hans Urs von Balthasar). Given by and focused on God, the three theological virtues are inseparably united. Hope, in particular is closely linked to faith and charity: faith guarantees the blessings of hope (Heb 11:1); hope is not deceptive because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5).
The greatest of the three is charity or love (cf. I Cor 13:13). Only charity gives perfection to faith and hope – and to all virtues! St. John of the Cross writes that “without charity, no virtue is graceful before God.” Hope can only attain its object – eternal life – if informed by charity.
Although faith is the most basic virtue, and charity, the most perfect, hope – faithful and loving hope – is in a sense the most needed in our earthly life. After all, “people can live without faith and apparently many do. Many also live without love. But without hope, something to move us onward, we simply cannot go on” (Michael Downey).
The Christian Virtue of Hope
Hope is a summary of the whole Bible. God is the God of hope (Rom 15:13). The Israelites lived in hope: “O Israel, hope in the Lord, both now and forever” (Ps 131:3).The new hope of the Christian is “a better hope” (Heb 7:19), a hope rooted in God the Father, in Christ, our hope (I Tim 1:1), and in the Holy Spirit and his gifts (Rom 5:5: II Cor 1:22). Christian hope is the theological virtue of the will, which tends decidedly to the attainment of eternal life with the help of the grace of God (St. Thomas Aquinas).
Christian hope is hope of eternal life, that is, of a blessed and happy life. We come from God and go to God – joyful in hope ((Rom 12:12) “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…” (Rev 21:1). Christian hope is not just “a pie in the sky,” but authentic eschatological hope: “I hope that I may arrive at resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:11).
Christian hope is temporal, that is, for our time and for all times. Theological hope places the past and the future in God’s merciful and provident hands. Expecting a new heaven and a new earth commits us to cultivate the present one which longs for the new (eschatological and cosmic hope (cf. Vatican II, GS 39). We live in “the here-after” and in “the here now.” Christian hope concentrates on the “present,” on “today” (Heb 3:7-8), on “now”: “Now is the day of salvation” (II Cor 6:2). Hope in God is not escapist but liberating: it commits us to liberate the present from slavery, injustice and violence.
My hope is the hope of a vulnerable pilgrim, of a sinner loved by God. It is a certain hope (God will not fail us), a patient hope (helps us face suffering on the way), and a prayerful hope. Prayer is a mediation of hope (spes orat, hope prays) and “a setting” to learn hope (Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 32). The best mediating prayer is the Our Father which, according to St. Augustine, contains all that is related to hope and reminds us daily that God the Father is really your Father, his/her Father and my Father. Our hopes and hope are nurtured in our liturgical and sacramental celebrations, above all in the Holy Eucharist. The community of disciples – our community – prays for all: “In hope, the Church prays for ‘all men to be saved’” (I Tim 2:4; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1821). With St. Teresa of Avila, the master of prayer, we exclaim: “Hope, O my soul, hope!”
Christian hope integrates, purifies, and elevates legitimate human hopes. Our human hopes are important and even necessary in our life: in a hidden an implicit manner, they point to hope in God. However, if human hopes are obstacles or opposed to hope in God – in heaven -, they may end up in despair, which is with presumption, a sin against hopes and hope. Human hopes which unduly attach us to a person, or a position, or a possession, or a place, cannot be authentic human hopes, for they are not permeated by the theological virtue of hope which inclines us to walk towards the embrace of Christ.
How Do I Nurture my Hope in God?
Checking my human hopes and “great” hope includes for me reading and re-reading helpful and inspiring books which continue feeding and refreshing my heart. The Sacred Scriptures is the best word on hope for me. One of my favorite texts on hope is from Isaiah: “Those who hope in Yahweh will renew their strength. They will soar as with eagle’s wings; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and never tire” (Is 40:31). The Gospels in particular continue consoling us in the midst of the evil in the world, our personal weaknesses and suffering. They present to us a portrait of Jesus Christ as our hope, and of his resurrection as its foundation. Indeed, what better inspiring words than these: In Christ we live; in Christ we shall die, and in Christ we hope to live forever (cf. I Cor 15:20-23).
In the Gospels, we learn about Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the Lady of the fiat and the magnificat, our Mother, who keeps telling us ‘Do whatever He tells you” (Jn 2:5). Vatican II tells us that Mary is a sign of sure hope and solace for the pilgrim people of God (LG, 68).
The saints are excellent traveling companions, and in particular the mystics. Their lives and works feed my soul and strengthen the wings of my blessed hope. Certainly, O God, “Thou has made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” (St. Augustine).
When all is said and done, we have to add always that what really matters is love – a love that is in this life “always ready to hope” (I Cor 13:7). Only the practice of hope in love will lead us happily on the way to heaven to total happiness!! This is what hope – faithful and loving hope – is all about, not a pie in the sky but creative fidelity to the present, to today. We try to live the present fully by doing what we ought to do with love – of God, neighbor and poor neighbor. Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked once: “What are your plans for the future?” Her answer: “I just take one day at a time. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today to love Jesus.”
We are pilgrims on earth and citizens of heaven: Eye has not seen, ear has not heard nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him (I Cor 2:9).