I am very happy that the season of Advent has arrived. Each year Advent offers me, and indeed all of us, an opportunity to allow the Holy Spirit to teach us to hope. I agree completely with St. John of the Cross, who reminded us that in the evening of our lives we will be judged on how we have loved.
Of course, I also agree with St. Paul that of the three virtues, faith, hope and charity, the greatest is charity. When faith and hope cease to exist, charity will still burn brightly in paradise.
Having admitted that love is the greatest of the three virtues, I nevertheless have come to believe that the virtue of hope has a special role to play in my life. Perhaps at this moment in time, it has a special role to play in the life of the Church.
When the church experiences serious problems, hope reminds us that our commitment is not primarily to an institution but to a person, the Risen Lord.
Many years ago, perhaps when I was a college student, I bought a book of Charles Peguy’s poems titled “God Speaks” (New York: Pantheon Books, Inc., 1945, pp. 122). It is possibly the best three dollar purchase I ever made! The following are some of the lines from Peguy’s poem “Hope”:
I am, says God, Master of three virtues.
Faith is a faithful a wife.
Charity is an ardent mother.
But hope is a tiny girl.
I am, says God, the Lord of Virtues.
Faith is a church, a cathedral rooted in the soil
Charity is a hospital, an almshouse which gathers up all the miseries of the world.
But if it weren’t for hope, all that would be nothing but a cemetery.
I am, says God, the Lord of virtues.
Faith is the sanctuary lamp
That burns forever.
Charity is that big, beautiful log fire
That you light in your hearth
So that my children the poor may come and warm
themselves before it on winter evenings.
And all around Faith, I see all my faithful
Kneeling together in the same attitude, and with
Uttering the same prayer.
And around Charity, I see all my poor
Sitting in a circle around that fire
And holding out their palms to the heat of the
But my hope is the bloom, and the fruit, and the
leaf, and the limb,
And the twig, and the shoot, and the seed, and the
Hope is the shoot, and the bud of the bloom
Of eternity itself. (pp.93, 94, 102, 103).
When we hope and trust in God, we give God infinite credit. We place ourselves in the hands of God knowing that God will not fail us. We remind ourselves that we do not redeem or save ourselves.
Pelagianism and Quietism
Hope walks a fine line between the two heresies of pelagianism and quietism.
Pelagianism tells us that we pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and earn salvation on our own; quietism goes to the opposite extreme and tells us that we need do nothing, that God will do everything. Hope assures us that we can risk everything on God’s love for us.
The Risen Lord saves us but we are called to freely cooperate with the Holy Spirit’s loving presence in our lives.
No one can be certain what lies ahead in the future. Some of our contemporaries think of the future as similar to the weather. In relation to the weather we seem to be merely passive recipients. It will snow or rain whether we do or don’t want rain or snow. Isn’t the future something like that? Aren’t we completely passive in relation to the weather and aren’t we completely passive in relation to the future?
Not quite. We cannot control whether it rains or snows but we are responsible for who experiences the rain or snow, namely ourselves. Hope can help us to experience the future differently because we are placing our trust and confidence in God no matter what we experience in the future. We are shaped by hope. To trust in God is the best way to co-create ourselves with God. Hope transforms our experience of the future.
Hope and Death
Probably the most obvious example of how hope transforms our experience of the future is how we can experience death because of hope.
Without hope death indicates that life is sound and fury signifying nothing. Existentialist atheistic philosophers are correct to describe human life as absurd if there is no hope in the face of death.
The Catholic outlook on death is that death does not mean that life is ended but that life is transformed. As Peguy wrote, “hope is the bud of the bloom of eternity itself.”
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his 24-part lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.