Third and last in a series
IN HIS BOOK, “Building the Human” (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968, pp. 192), Robert Johann gives an interesting sketch of how hope functions between two persons who are entering a love relationship. I think that Johann’s insight into the mystery of hope is an excellent example of how philosophy can deepen and expand our understanding of theology, and can also help us in our attempts to live out what we believe about the mysteries of Catholicism.
Illuminating Human Experience
Some of Johann’s reflections reveal how “practical” philosophy can be. The image of philosophy as a subject that has nothing to do with people’s lives – an image that suggests that philosophy is totally otherworldly and excessively speculative – could not be further from the truth. Philosophy is based on human experiences and can profoundly illuminate human experience. Johann claims that a love relationship cannot happen unless the two people place hope and trust in one another. He writes the following:
“To love another person deeply and genuinely is to put the meaning and happiness of one’s life in that person’s hands. When we love, we shift the focus of our concern and preoccupation from ourselves to another. The other’s fulfillment and happiness are what we seek. Our very life becomes a gift and all we ask is that the gift be accepted. Whether or not it will be, however, does not depend on us. Try as we may, we cannot compel another to accept our love or make room for us in his heart. We cannot force love. …
“To approach another with love, therefore, requires a heart filled with hope. The lover comes with a prayer, ‘Let me be with you’ – and can only hope to be heard. He looks to a relationship that is meant to be forever, but can only hope that it will be so. Without hope, that is a willingness to count on another’s freedom as reliably for him, he would never take the step. Without hope, which embraces the whole of the future, his love could not even begin.” (pp. 149-150).
I believe that what Johann has written about hope between two human persons can be applied to our relationship with God, Who has invited each of us to enter a love relationship with God. In doing this God has placed trust in us. Though God wants us to become lovers, God will never force us to love.
God wants our love to be free. It is possible that we will not respond to God’s invitation or even that our response may be negative. The basic and radical vocation of every person is to be a lover.
Whatever other vocation we may have, whether it is to marriage or religious life or the single life, the bottom line is that at the deepest level of our personality we are being called into a love relationship.
Promise of Fidelity
Not only does God place trust in us, we place our trust and hope in God. Accepting God’s invitation, we trust that God will not disappoint us, not let us down, not live up to the promise of fidelity that goes with God’s invitation. Hoping in God frees and liberates us so that we can risk our lives on God’s love for us. Hope helps us in our willingness to count on God’s love for us, to rely on God with a courage and abandon that makes no sense to those who do not believe in God’s love for all of us. Hope helps us to be fools for Christ’s sake.
Indicating that we exult in hope, St. Paul writes the following;
“And not only this, but we exult in tribulations also, knowing that tribulation works out endurance, and endurance tried virtue, and tried virtue hope. And hope does not disappoint, because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For why did Christ, at the set time, die for the wicked when as yet we were weak?
“For scarcely in behalf of a just man does one die: yet perhaps one might bring himself to die for a good man. But God commends his charity towards us, because when as yet we were sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5: 3-9).
Allow the Holy Spirit In
I love the expression “hope does not disappoint.” If we could believe that deeply, if we could allow it to color our relationship with God, if we could permit our hope to cast away all fear, if we could allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and to lead us into the future, if we could let our hope support all our friendships and other relationships, I suspect we would experience an almost unimaginable and inconceivable happiness.