– FAUSTO GOMEZ OP
For Christians, the liturgical season of Advent is a most significant one. Advent is the season of hope, and hope is the virtue of life.
I focus my simple meditation first on Advent as hope; second, on hope as fidelity to the present; third, on the convenience of examining our hopes from time to time; and fourth, on preparation for our immediate object of Advent hope: Christmas. This first piece covers the first two, namely Advent as hope and fidelity to the present.
ADVENT AS HOPE
Through the liturgical year, we Christians celebrate the mysteries of our faith, of our redemption: the total life of Christ. Through the liturgy, we re-live the birth, life, passion, death and resurrection of our Lord. Above all, through the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the center and summit of our Christian life. The celebration of Sunday, of the Day of the Lord zeroes in on the Last Supper. It was so essential in the lives of the first Christians that – as we are told – “they could not live without the Eucharist.” The celebration of the Eucharist as Word and Sacrament is nourishment for our journey of Advent and hope.
The liturgical year opens with Advent and ends with the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. Yearly we journey with our Mother Church, with the People of God from Advent to Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, the weeks of Ordinary Time, the Feasts of the Blessed Trinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ – and of our Mother Mary and other saints. Among all the annual liturgical seasons, the most important are Advent/Christmas, and Lent/Easter.
Advent means coming, arriving. Who is coming? Who is arriving? Our Lord Jesus Christ! He came over twenty centuries ago in history at Christmas – his birth in Bethlehem; He continues to come into our lives in different ways and situations; He will come again at the end of time. St Bernard comments on these three kinds of comings: “In his first coming our Lord came in the flesh and in our weakness; in his middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.” It is very consoling and fortifying to believe, know and experience in our lives that Jesus is always with us (Mt 28:20): today, tomorrow, and forever.
Advent is the season of hope, of preparation for the different comings of the Lord. The season of hope comprises our whole life. Life is a journey, and the human person is a pilgrim with a thousand hopes – plus One -, always on the way to different destinations that lead us hopefully to the final one. Above all, and consciously or unconsciously, every human being hopes in a good final destination – happiness, heaven. Indeed, “You, Lord, have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” (St Augustine).
The great philosopher E. Kant says that three things help us bear the difficulties of life: hope, sleep and laughter. To flourish as human beings, we need the valuable help of human or secular virtues, which are firm good dispositions of the soul, such as temperance, justice, and solidarity. Virtues, or good operative habits, strengthen our resolve to be good and do good. As Christians in particular, we need most of all, the theological virtues, which rooted in grace are infused by God: they are God’s gifts to us. The infused virtues – theological as well as the moral – are perfected by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and practiced in the Beatitudes, the magna carta of our Christian life.
The three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity are three ways to connect and respond to God: faith is the root of Christian life; hope is its orientation, and charity, its substance (Jurgen Moltmann). The three are closely linked (I Thes 1:3; I Cor 13:7). A friend sent to me this message through an email: “Faith makes everything possible. Hope makes everything work. Love makes everything beautiful. May you have all three any moment of every month, of every year!”
Although faith is the most basic virtue and charity, the most perfect one, the virtue of hope is in a sense the most necessary in our earthly life. Certainly, “The virtue of hope is the primary virtue corresponding to the status viatoris,” the status of being a pilgrim. It is the virtue of the ‘not yet’.” In reality, “People cannot live without hope… 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). Indeed, as theologian Jacques Ellul affirms, “hope is urgent, prior, and central today.” This means according to him “the preaching, the proclamation, the declaration, and the living of hope” (Essential Spiritual Writings).
Christian hope is faithful and loving. It is founded on faith in God: without faith in the God of the future, hope cannot stand. It is practiced in charity or love: without love hope cannot walk towards heaven. Love is the form of all virtues, and God’s love is better than life (Ps 63:3). Faithful and loving hope in heaven does not take away our human hopes but nourishes them with love and purifies and transforms them into true hopes on the journey of our life. 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 faithful and loving hope in God – of God as absolute future.
HOPE AS JOURNEY TO THE FUTURE THROUGH FIDELITY TO THE PRESENT
Hope is hope in heaven. With our eyes fixed on God, who is in us, around us and in front of us, and grounded on faith, we journey with loving hope to tomorrow, to happiness, to eternal beatitude: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
God has promised the glory of heaven to those who love him and do his will (CCC 1821). Jacques Ellul writes: “Our hope rests on the victory of Jesus Christ, and is manifested only in the resurrection… Christ is everything for us: through his death, He is our savior; through his Resurrection, He is our hope.” The theologian adds: “let us rejoice in the Lord: for it is no small reason for rejoicing to have a hope that will someday be fulfilled… Therefore, “since the hope we now have inspires love, the just man rejoices” (St. Augustine).
Christian hope is hope now. Christian hope however, is not “a pie in the sky,” but a commitment to change the present. “There is no arrival unless there is a definite plan to go” (Cassian, Conferences). Rooted in the past – in our loving faith in the Crucified and Risen Lord -, and looking forward to the future with the eyes of faith, Christian hope concentrates on the present, on today, on the moment, on the “now”: God, the object of our hope is “the eternal now.” The only thing in our hands is not the past or the future but the present. Hence, to be truly hopeful Christians – and many other hopeful believers – ought to be faithful to the present moment: “I just keep concentrating on the present moment… Let us see each instant as if there were no other. An instant is a treasure” (St Therese of the Child Jesus). A significant Zen saying: “The past is unreal. The future is unreal. Only the moment is real. Life is a series of moments either lived or lost.” How real and challenging! Life is a series of moments either lived or lost.
What does it mean to live the present, today, this moment? It means to do what we have to do with love – with faithful and hopeful love. To put love in our daily activities is to do good every moment and to witness goodness with and for others. Indeed, “only the love that we have accumulated throughout our lives stands out, and is the only good that will accompany us after this life” (S Galilea). “What are your plans for the future?” a journalist asked Saint Mother Teresa of Kolkata. 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.” The Psalmist tells us: “If today you hear his voice [God’s] harden not your hearts” (Ps 95:7-8). Hope, then, is not just a pie in the sky but fidelity to the present, to today, to this moment. This implies saying yes to love and no to sin – to selfishness, to inability to forgive, to insensibility to the needy. Sin is a betrayal of love.
Hope, loving hope inclines us not to stop or go back – on our journey of life – but to go forward, to continue walking: to love the present in love but keep going. Looking back may be a sign of lack of hope. Moreover, not forgiving implies looking back to the offenses not healed.
It is important to underline that hope prays. The three theological virtues are deeply united to prayer: “Faith believes, and hope and charity pray” (St Augustine). Hope and prayer “feed on each other.” “Prayer is hope in action” (Benedict XVI). Prayer is “the reason, the means and the expression of hope” (J Ellul). Like prayer, hope is patient and persevering, and believes in God’s mercy. With God, the Psalmist tells us, “We can scale any wall.” Without me, Jesus says, “you can do nothing.”
Hope, Advent hope implies penance, conversion to God, to others, to the poor, and to creation. It is an urgent call to change: from sin to love; from darkness to light. Faithful and loving hope is love of God and neighbor, including love of enemies. Forgiving our enemies is indeed an act of Christian hope – the hope of the possible conversion of others, of our enemies too (Jacques Philippe). With the challenging words of theologian Marianne Williamson I close: The practice of forgiveness is our most important contribution to the healing of the world.