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.