by Father Robert Lauder,
Lately, the expression “the earthly virtue” seems to me to fit the virtue of hope. This is probably due to the way that I think about the virtue as having one foot in the next world and one foot in this. Hope is focused on the next life with the risen Lord but it is also crucially important for us as we try to direct our lives in this world.
St. Paul was of course completely correct in claiming that love is the greatest virtue and as I have grown older that has become more and more obvious to me. But I think that hope must be right below it in terms of importance in our efforts at living as followers of Christ. I agree with the statement of St. John of the Cross that in the evening of our lives we will be judged by how we have loved but I also think that how we love is related to how deeply we hope.
Embracing the Virtue of Hope
In reflecting on the role that hope should play in our lives, I became aware that I have been trying to be more hopeful, more trusting in God’s love, for more than 60 years. When I was studying in the seminary to become a priest, for one entire year, at the advice of a spiritual director, I read everything that I could get my hands on about the virtue of hope. I read books, pamphlets and essays. The plan was to fill my consciousness with the importance of trusting in God.
After I finish writing this column I am going to look through my bookcases to see how many books on hope I still have. It might be interesting to read the remarks that I probably wrote in the margins as I was reading. I was so concerned about the virtue that I eventually wrote a small book about it.
A few years ago I came upon a quote from the theologian Gordon Kaufman. It is about the mystery of God’s Providence. The quote spoke to me and still does.
When I have shared it with others it seems to have helped them as well. It presents a beautiful view of reality and of the decisions and choices that people make. What is most important about Kaufman’s statement is that it is true. He wrote the following:
“If man could believe that the historical context into which he has been thrown were meaningful, if he could believe it to be the loving personal decision and purpose of a compassionate Father Who is moving all history toward a significant goal, then anxiety would be dissolved. If he could believe his existence and decisions and actions had an indispensable place within larger purposes shaping the overall movement of history, and that even his stupid blunders and willful perversities could be rectified and redeemed, his anxiousness and guilt could give place to confidence, creativeness and hope.”
I suspect that there are times when I think of God as a bystander in my life, picturing God as observing me but not actively involved in my choices. This is not the God whom Jesus revealed. God is constantly active in our lives, loving us, inviting us, inspiring us. If God is pure self-gift, and I believe that this is probably the least inaccurate image we can have of God, then God is in a dynamic relation with us at every moment of our lives.
Reflecting upon the virtue of hope, I am reminded that we are called to surrender to God. Of course if we are conscious at the moment of our death, the most important act that we can perform is to surrender to God Who loves us more than we can imagine. But it is not just at the moment of death that we are called to surrender. We do not redeem or save ourselves. God offers us salvation and redemption but we must choose to accept God’s gift. St. Augustine said that though God created us without our consent, God will not save us without our consent.
There are many realities in our experience that can frighten us, even frighten us so much that we are afraid to act. That is where hope comes into play. Hope reminds us to trust in God’s love for us and that the victory has been won for us by Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hope does not mean that everything will turn out the way that we want. It does mean that at the end even our best wishes and dreams will be exceeded by what God has planned for us.
Everyone’s life is a great drama, an adventure in grace, a journey toward the goal that Jesus has won for us. On that journey we are never alone. Hope reminds us of this profound truth and encourages us to live in the light of that truth.
Next week, a closer look at two different Christian spiritualities — eschatological and incarnational.Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.