Arts and Culture

Christian Hope, Gratitude and Joy

Third in a series

SEVERAL READINGS of Paul J. Wadell’s excellent essay, “Not Settling for Less,” which appeared in the Jesuit weekly America (Nov. 21, 2016) have led me to better appreciate the virtue of hope.

In recent years I have come to see how central hope is to living as a follower of the risen Christ. Wadell’s essay has helped me to see some of the implications of placing trust in God. The subtitle to Wadell’s essay is “The Audacity and Practice of Christian Hope.” I think describing Christian hope as audacious can help us deepen our understanding of what Christian hope is.

If we reflect on what hope enables us to do, we might get some sense of why it can seem audacious. We trust in God’s presence in our lives. Our hope is based on the amazing truth that we share God’s life. We have accepted God’s invitation to share God’s love and we believe that God will never withdraw that invitation. God’s fidelity enables us to hope. While hope is a gift from God, how we live can either strengthen our hope or weaken it. Hoping is not a matter of picking ourselves up by our bootstraps and growing closer to God solely by our own efforts. The Holy Spirit always accompanies us, but how we live can help our hope to grow stronger.

Probably what I like most about Wadell’s essay is his emphasis on the celebration of the Eucharist as an important way to exercise our hope and allow it to grow stronger. He writes the following:

“…the Eucharist is crucial for nurturing hope because the Eucharist forms us into people of gratitude, people whose stance towards life is marked by thanksgiving and praise … Gratitude fosters hope because it draws us out of ourselves and opens our eyes to see the beauty and goodness of life, a beauty and goodness that is always there, but that we easily overlook. Gratitude enkindles hope because grateful people notice; they see what others overlook. Gratitude is a reliable path to hope because with gratitude we realize that even though life doesn’t always give us what we want, it does bless us with unexpected goods and pleasures.” (p. 22)

Gratitude should color our entire relationship with God because the best and most important unexpected good that we receive is the unmerited, unearned love that God bestows on us. A Eucharist is the most important prayer and the best way of expressing gratitude to God. As is true of every aspect of our relationship with God, we receive more in a Eucharist than we give: we give ourselves to God, God gives us His Son. Our very act of thanksgiving benefits us. If we attend the Eucharist regularly, intelligently and devoutly, our consciousness and our conscience should be influenced. The Eucharist should shape us and form us after the model of the risen Christ. The structure of the Mass seems perfect to me. We listen to God’s Word and our response to that Word is to offer ourselves in union with the risen Christ to our Father.

That we participate in a Eucharist is an audacious act because the creature is addressing the Creator, the finite is counting on promises that have been made by the Infinite. We are confidently hoping that the Creator of the universe loves us and will keep the promises He has made to us.

Gratitude is freeing. It reminds us that we are not alone, that we are loved, that we are special, precious, significant, important. Gratitude toward God reminds us that we have been bought at a great price. One of the sayings common in the Cursillo Movement is: “God does not make junk.”

Celebrating the Eucharist regularly should also deepen our joy. Believing what Catholics believe should make us profoundly happy. Our joy should be so profound that is can be recognized by others. I don’t mean that we should walk around smiling all of the time. Rather, I mean we should have a deep sense that we have been redeemed and saved by Jesus’ love for us, a love that led Him to the cross.

The level of joy that I am referring to can coexist with sorrow. It also can enable us to endure suffering, disappointment and loss. Many character traits should distinguish Christians from others. This kind of joy is one of those character traits.

Years ago, I met Paul Wadell and we worked on a book project together. I am going to contact him and thank him.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).

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