Food for the Soul
A bi-weekly blog on the virtuous life. Written not by a master, but by a student, but one at least who knows whence sound teaching is found.
Thomas Cole (1801-1848) The Pilgrim of the Cross at the End of His Journey. (Public domain)
O my God, relying on your infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon for my sins, the help of your grace and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer. - The Act of Hope
Christ is held by the hand of hope. We hold him and are held. But it is a greater good that we are held by Christ than that we hold him. For we can hold him only so long as we are held by him. - Paschasius Radbertus
But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall take wings as eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. -Isaiah 40:31
The virtues are human ways of acting. That is why they are good for us to practice. When we begin to study the virtues, we come to a deeper understanding of ourselves. Hope is a virtue that tells us quite a lot about the basic journey of human life. It is the virtue for the wayfarer.
One of my favorite thoughts to think is that there was a time that I did not exist. (I'll give you a moment to silently ponder this simple, but profound reality.) The natural consequence of meditating upon this simple fact in light of another simple fact, that I now exist, leads me to appreciate in the depths of my soul the giftedness of my existence. I exist because another person wanted me to exist and gave me existence; to be more precise I exist because another Person (God) wants me to exist right now. On the natural level, I owe my existence to my parents. But it shouldn't take me long to realize that even on the natural level God is the primary agent who created me from nothing; my parents cooperated with Him. As the book of Wisdom says, "He created all things that they might be" (Wis. 1:14).
Josef Pieper's book on hope begins its discussion about the virtue of hope with the existential reality that to be human means that I have a close proximity with nothingness (because I am not the source of my own existence) and simultaneously an orientation toward the fulfillment of existence through becoming the utmost of what I am capable of being. To put it a little more simply, to be human means being a creature that is not yet perfect. This state of being human is traditionally described as a state of being "on the way."
One of the ways people have quite naturally expressed this state of journeying as an image for the whole of life is through undertaking pilgrimages. I once walked for eight days through the countryside of Portugal and Spain on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, the resting place of the Apostle James the Lesser. During many moments of the walk I came experienced quite precisely why hope is so important: thoughts and feelings of quitting, of turning aside from the difficult path and wasting my day eating tapas in whatever town through which I happened to be passing was a real option. Relying on myself alone, there was no guarantee of reaching the end. I am too fickle, indecisive, and weak to be that certain of completing the journey. But I also knew that I could make it if I continued putting one foot in front of the other and relied on God. Pilgrimages are difficult journeys undertaken for the sake of reaching a holy destination and leaving behind sinful ways of life. According to that definition, life is a pilgrimage. The beautiful painting by Thomas Cole captures well the reality of hope as the virtue that moves us through the crags and shadows of life as one capable of sinning to the threshold of eternity illumined by the light that comes from the Cross of Christ. Life is a journey, Christ is the guide and goal.
Social commentators today lament some of the consequences of living in a culture of instant gratification. I've always mistrusted people who believe that instant gratification is not such a bad thing. These are the people who think that the problem with the world is want. If everyone just had exactly what they wanted all the time, everything would be peachy. Something deep down seems wrong about that opinion. After reading and pondering again about the virtue of hope, it seems to me part of the reason that I believe instant gratification to be so detrimental to the formation of our character is because it eliminates the need for people to learn how to exercise hope; and hope takes seriously the "not yet" of personal fulfillment. According to St. Paul "in hope we are saved" (Rom. 8:24). The corollary to that statement is that without hope we are not saved.
The theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity are connected in such a way that the "supernatural life in man has three main currents: the reality of God, which surpasses all natural knowledge, manifests itself to faith. Love affirms - also in its own right -the Highest Good (God), which has become visible beneath the veil of faith. Hope is the confidently patient expectation of eternal beatitude in a contemplative (think beholding by our mind) and comprehensive sharing of the triune life of God; hope expects from God's hand the eternal life that is God himself" (Cajetan, Commentary on II, II, 17, 5; no. 7). What the great Cardinal Cajetan states here about hope is the important fact that the only hope that is perfect and virtuous is hope that comes from God (through faith), depends on God (whose gift of grace sustains us in our life), and reaches out for God as the supreme Good of our lives. Without God there is no hope because ultimately God is object of our hope.
One of the earliest prayers that children learn is the Our Father. St. Thomas Aquinas thought that the Our Father was the means through which Jesus taught us to hope in God. In fact, prayer and hope are naturally ordered to each other, so the pedagogy seems sound. We pray in hope, and we express our hope in prayer. Think for a moment of how important it is for children to pray the words "Our Father, Who art in Heaven... give us this day our daily (super-substantial) bread, forgive us our trespasses...deliver us from evil." When it comes right down to it, hope turns our hearts to God in order to receive from his merciful goodness what we need, but cannot grant ourselves. The Our Father, as a prayer of hope, directs us to turn to God because in His Goodness and Omnipotence He alone can bring me safely to the end of my life and provide for my every need on the way. He alone can give me daily heavenly nourishment. He alone can forgive my sins and restore me to divine friendship. He alone can deliver me from evil.
It is my desire that the virtue of hope be fostered in our homes and school. We need authentic hope that comes from God and clings to God. Otherwise, the difficulty of the journey of life will be too much for us and our students to bear without turning aside from the path that leads to eternal life. The common proverb states that "hope springs eternal." I think that a better proverb would read "hope springs from the eternal," because God is the source of hope.
In conclusion, I'd like to list some simple ways that hope can be fostered in our lives and in our homes: