Sunday, March 20, 2016

Spes Contra Spem

On Thursday morning, March 17, the holy Father gave a homily on what may be the most difficult virtue to understand: hope.

He is the God, Francis added, “who accompanies us, he is also the God who suffers, who suffers as his people have suffered, he suffers on the Cross, but he is true to his word.” 
Precisely in this regard the Pope recommended an essential examination of conscience regarding faith, love and hope, asking several direct questions: “Do you have faith? Yes father, I have faith: I believe in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and in the sacraments. Very well, do you have love? Yes, but not very much, I try not to quarrel, to help the needy, to do something good in life.” These are the easy answers that we often give, Francis noted. But, he added, “when you ask yourself if you have hope, if you have the joy of hope,” the answer is: “Father, I don’t understand, explain.” 
Hope, the Pontiff remarked, is “the humble virtue, the virtue that courses beneath the water of life, but which supports us so as not to drown in the many difficulties, so as not to lose the desire to find God, to find that marvelous face that we will all see one day.”

The Bear thinks perhaps hope is the most underrated virtue. He understands it a little, because he has experienced the absolute lack of hope in anything. It is a cruel trial when death seems infinitely preferable to a living without hope. It is indeed a humble virtue that works in the background, and only occasionally rises to the forefront to be experienced directly. It is only when we lose all hope that we truly appreciate its importance.

True hope does not come from circumstances. On Palm Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, oh how the people "hoped" that the messiah they envisioned had come! Yet how brittle was that hope, and how soon those same disappointed people would be shouting "Crucify Him!"

Real hope is, like the holy Father said, "the humble virtue, the virtue that courses beneath the water of life." We do not hope because of what we see, indeed we usually "hope against hope."

St. Paul uses the word "hope" 44 times in the RSVCE Bible. Here is a good example about Abraham.

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations; as he had been told, "So shall your descendants be." He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead because he was about a hundred years old, or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah's womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.

(Romans 4:18-21 RSV)

Hope is subtly related to faith, as the above suggests. But faith is an intellectual assent that a certain thing is true. Hope anticipates the wished-for outcome of some event. In Abraham's case, "In hope, he believed against hope." He anticipated the fulfillment of the promise when there was no earthly reason to hope for it. The Bear thinks of St. Monica, praying for her son Augustine, who gave her no hope that he would ever become a Christian. But, "in hope she believed against hope," that her prayers would be effective.

May you never lose hope. May your prayers made "in hope against hope" be granted. And if you are hopeless, do not let go of God, but search in the dark until you find some string that, if followed, leads to the light.

Cultivate hope. It is a beautiful, if humble, virtue.


  1. I would also add never underestimate the amount of hope that you can try to transmit to others. God will multiply it.

  2. Why are you cast down, O my soul?
    And why are you disquieted within me?
    Hope in God;
    For I shall yet praise Him,
    The help of my countenance and my God.

    Psalms 43:5

  3. Well, if we "all" will see it, some of us will turn away. Or worse, the face will say, "I never knew you." Or so we are told. Hope isn't, so to speak, a stand alone virtue. It is grounded in what we WANT, or, rather, in what we really want, and maybe what we are prepared to do to get it. The Pope didn't contradict this per se. But I want a Pope that shouts it.

    1. I think those are most devastating biblical words, "I never knew you".

    2. I think the focus was on the virtue of hope, and "all" was not intended as signaling universalism. The object of hope is an acute observation. While the eclipse of hope can be total and general, hope, like faith and charity, must be directed toward something, as Michael's quote from the CCC demonstrates, and the discussion of God's promise to Abraham illustrates.

  4. Hope definition from the catechism of the Catholic Church.

    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."85

    1818 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; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.

    1819 Christian hope takes up and fulfills the hope of the chosen people which has its origin and model in the hope of Abraham, who was blessed abundantly by the promises of God fulfilled in Isaac, and who was purified by the test of the sacrifice.86 "Hoping against hope, he believed, and thus became the father of many nations."87

    1820 Christian hope unfolds from the beginning of Jesus' preaching in the proclamation of the beatitudes. The beatitudes raise our hope toward heaven as the new Promised Land; they trace the path that leads through the trials that await the disciples of Jesus. But through the merits of Jesus Christ and of his Passion, God keeps us in the "hope that does not disappoint."88 Hope is the "sure and steadfast anchor of the soul . . . that enters . . . where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf."89 Hope is also a weapon that protects us in the struggle of salvation: "Let us . . . put on the breastplate of faith and charity, and for a helmet the hope of salvation."90 It affords us joy even under trial: "Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation."91 Hope is expressed and nourished in prayer, especially in the Our Father, the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire.

    1821 We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will.92 In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere "to the end"93 and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God's eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for "all men to be saved."94 She longs to be united with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the glory of heaven:

    Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end.95


Moderation is On.

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