Arts and Culture

Hope: God’s Gift and Promise to Humanity

Second in a series

Early in his essay, “Not Settling for Less: The Audacity and Practice of Christian Hope” (America, Nov. 21, 2016), Paul J. Wadell discusses hope in relation to our friendship with God.

Stressing that we do not hope alone, that we need others, friends who encourage and support us, perhaps even challenge us, Wadell writes the following:

“Like any friend, God desires our happiness and seeks what is best for us, but the good that God wants for us is the richest and most fulfilling of all, namely God. And like any friend, God accompanies us, blesses us, steadies and encourages us so that the absolutely best thing we could ever hope for will be ours. This is why hope is not something we achieve through hard work, grit and determination. Hope is inescapably a gift. Hope is the gift God bestows on us so that we can turn our lives to God, seek God, grow in the love and goodness of God and someday know the unbroken beatitude that comes from living in perfect communion with God.” (p. 20)

God Is the Source

For me, Wadell’s insistence that hope is not something that we achieve through hard work is an important insight into our relationship with God. Even in my relationship with God, I tend to think that I can pick myself up by my bootstraps and make myself draw closer to God. Not true. God takes the initiative. Hope comes from God and points toward God.

It is profoundly true that we have been made for a relationship with God. Nothing else will ever fulfill us. The deepest level of our capacity to know and the deepest level of our power to love are oriented toward God. This is how God has designed us, not because of some lack in God that we are created to fulfill, but because God, Who is Love, bestows gifts. The greatest gift God can bestow is a relationship of love with God.

Not for the Faint-Hearted

The more I think about Christian hope, the more aware I become of the importance of hoping in community. It is not easy to trust in God. Little in our society encourages such trust. Many of our contemporaries even believe that hoping and trusting in God is sign of weakness, that we have just not grown up. In their eyes, people who place hope in God seem so weak that they invent some imaginary superior being who will allow them to escape life’s difficulties. The reality is: hope is not for the faint-hearted. Trusting in God calls us to action. Hope calls us to overcome passivity.

When I think of hoping in a community, I almost spontaneously think of the celebration of the Eucharist. Everything that we believe about Christian hope is expressed in the celebration of a Eucharist. Old Testament readings remind us of God’s love for the Jewish people, and through the Jewish people, God’s love reaching out to all people. Readings from the New Testament, perhaps especially from St. Paul, reveal the hope that motivated the Apostles in the early Church to undergo all sorts of sacrifices in order to spread the Good News.

The proclamation of the Gospel presents to us the birth, life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus. No matter how we look at the meaning, every Eucharist is a powerful sign of hope. If someone who was not a believer entered a Catholic church during a eucharistic celebration, that person might find it amazing, indeed beyond belief, if that person understood the hope of those celebrating the Eucharist.

Pope Benedict’s statement in his encyclical on hope is profoundly true: “All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action.”

Actions Reveal Vocation, Destiny

That statement has come to mean a great deal to me. Every good action is a sign of hope. To me that means that every good action, at least implicitly, is a sign that life has meaning, that we are on an important journey together. Hope always calls attention not only to our final destiny beyond the grave, but also to what is important to life on earth.

Every good action sheds light on the most important meaning of human existence. We are pilgrims on a journey and how we act on that journey can reveal who we are, and what our vocation and destiny are. Hope taps into the most important meaning of being human.

Visiting the sick and imprisoned, forgiving someone, helping the poor, encouraging the emotionally depressed and listening to the troubles of another are all signs of hope. Hope enriches the life of the one hoping, but it is also a powerful sign and witness that can help others.

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