In his encyclical on Christian Hope, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI writes: “According to the Christian faith, ‘redemption’ – salvation – is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey” (Spe Salvi, 1). Christian hope – in which, as St. Paul says, we are saved (cf. Rm 8:24) – this is demonstrated to us in today’s first and second readings. And in today’s Gospel, Christ our Lord teaches us how to live in saving hope.
Hope together with Faith and Charity are called theological virtues because they relate directly to God. “They dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity…. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life.” “They have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object” (CCC 1812-13).
The word hope is used extensively in the Bible to the point that in several passages it seems interchangeable with faith (cf. Heb 10:22-23). However, we can say that hope is faith that is expressed over a long period of time. It is a kind of yearning and patiently looking forward to God. Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “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 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.” (CCC 1817-18).
This is the truth that we see expressed in today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom. The author describes how Israel awaited, without discouragement, their deliverance from slavery. They believed in God and they lived in the joyful expectation that God would be faithful to his promises. “With sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith,” they awaited with hope the fulfillment of their aspiration to true happiness. The virtue of hope frees us from the many snares of selfishness, that is, from focusing too much on ourselves. It allows us to look forward to the One who satisfies our deepest yearning. Hope, by which we depend on God for our future, orders our activities here on earth in the right path. Therefore it gives us true wisdom, the beginning of which is joyful and reverent fear of God.
“Christian hope takes up and fulfils the hope of the chosen people which has its origin and model in the hope of Abraham” (CCC 1819). Today’s second reading tells us about how the Patriarch Abraham lived the virtue of hope. He trusted in God and looked forward to finding true happiness in him. So, with his life anchored in God, he was able to go forth to the “place he was to receive as an inheritance,” even though he did not know where he was going. This is the kind of freedom experienced by the children of God – by all who follow the example of Abraham’s faith and hope. Abraham did not go forth with a heavy heart or with bitterness. He knew that God is the source of true happiness, and so kept his heart focused on him. In the eyes of the secular world, living in hope like that of Abraham can be ridiculed as senseless, yet this is the path of true wisdom. As St. Paul writes, “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Cor 1:25).
Jesus, who brings our hope to fulfilment, teaches us in today’s Gospel how to live in the Christian hope that saves, the hope that seems foolish in the eyes of the world. Jesus does not want us to have vain or empty hope. Hence, he first assures us that our hope is built on a great reality: “Do not be afraid any longer, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.” The Kingdom is no passing earthly possession but a communion of life with God and all his saints. The Kingdom is the deepest and truest joy and peace that every human heart longs for. It is only God who can give it to us, and this he does through Jesus Christ.
Since Jesus is the key to unlocking the mystery of eternal joy and peace and the One who makes them possible through his death and Resurrection, he is rightly the One who teaches us how to live in hope. Today he teaches us that true Christian hope is not to be lived in idleness and laziness. We are like servants who live in joyful anticipation of their master’s return from a wedding. Therefore we must break off from our crippling selfishness and work with diligence as we look forward to heaven. While we are on earth, we must persevere in prayer which makes union with God possible and dedicate ourselves to the work of charity. We face a great spiritual battle against the evil one who does not want us to reach the joy of heaven. The evil one makes us too focused on ourselves and on earthly pleasure. In the light of what Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel, we recall the truth that “the battle against the possessive and dominating self requires vigilance, sobriety of heart” (CCC 2730). It is in this manner that we can live by the Christian hope that saves.
In what ways have I experienced hope? Am I getting ready for the redemption that the Lord is offering me? What are the treasures in my life at this moment?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.