We talk a lot about Hope.
We hope the weather will be good for our family vacation. We hope that our Beloved Saints will win the Super Bowl—well, that’s a stretch! We hope that we get just what we want for Christmas.
But for many of us, Hope lacks a sense of certainty.
It is more like a wish—something that we want to happen but have no way of knowing that it ultimately will. So we keep our fingers crossed and Hope that everything will go the way we want it to. The reality is that often life doesn’t turn out the way we hoped it would.
Hope is a fragile commodity.
When life is disappointing, our optimism is replaced by feelings of discouragement and hopelessness. Before long we run the risk of becoming cynics who believe that there is nothing in which we can confidently hope. This was the landscape of life when Jesus entered the world. The prevailing mood of Israel was anything but Hope.
The once proud nation was now a puppet state of the pagan Roman Empire. The common person lived under the burden of the exaggerated requirements of the religious establishment. Centuries before, they had been promised a deliverer who would restore Israel to its former glory, but it had never happened. Into this sense of cynical hopelessness, true Hope was born.
The People who walked in Darkness, have seen a great Light!
If there is one virtue that captures what Christmas is all about, it is HOPE!
Hope has been called the forgotten virtue of our time.
Even though we live in a time of extraordinary achievements, it may also be the time of diminished hope or, perhaps more accurately, misdirected hope, because it is tempting to replace the virtue of hope with flimsy substitutes that cannot possibly give us what our souls really need.
We live in a time marked by violence—citizens fighting police, children in Syria bloodied by war, refugee children being washed up on beaches in Europe, Terrorist Attacks. These can threaten hope.
But perhaps what threatens hope even more today are not these tragedies and calamities but the subtle despair that we settle into when we slip into ways of living that rob us of the profound good that God wants for us. The problem is not that we hope for too much, but that we have learned to settle for too little. We have lost sight and forgotten the profound promise to which hope always beckons.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote that hope is born from the desire for something good that is “difficult but possible to attain.” There is no need for hope if we can easily get what we want, but neither is there any reason to hope when what we desire is completely beyond our grasp. But Aquinas also observed that there are far more reasons to be hopeful “when we have friends to rely on.”
If the object of our hopes can extend no further than what we might be able to secure for ourselves, then our hopes will necessarily be limited. But if there are people who not only love us and care for us and want what is best for us but will also help us achieve it, then our hopes can be much more daring and expansive.
We do not hope alone, we hope together.
Hope requires companions— people who want our good and who help us along our way. When Aquinas spoke of help from others and friends we can rely on, who he really has in mind, is God. 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— God and everlasting life with 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 and determination.
Hope is a Gift.
Hope is the gift God bestows on us so that we can turn our lives to God, and grow in the love and goodness of God. Christian hope reaches for an unsurpassable good we already possess, even if imperfectly: the very life, love, and goodness of God. The scope of our Christian hope is determined, not by our own power or resources but by God’s unlimited love and goodness.
We should never be anything other than being bold and daring with Hope because God is both the object of our hope and the means to obtain it.
The one who has hope, lives differently!
Hope is not a fleeting emotion, much less an attitude that fades when life is hard, but a resilient stance toward life marked by trust, confidence and perseverance.
Hope empowers us to live differently because our Christian Hope is rooted in the unshakable conviction that God loves us and wants our good.
As St. Paul says: If God is for us, who can be against us?
To live with hope is to take those words to heart and to allow that knowledge to change our lives.
To live in Hope is to want nothing less for ourselves than what God wants for us.
If that would be the basic desire of our lives, what would change?
How would we be Resurrected?
At the very least, it would free us from the habit of worrying about ourselves and liberate us from comparing our status and achievements with other’s. Because God is for us and wants our good, we don’t have to be anxious and fearful, calculating and cautious.
We have time to love our neighbor. We have time to be merciful and compassionate, patient and generous. We have time to listen and to be present, time to encourage and support, because we know, that what God’s love envisions for us will be fulfilled. The greatness of our hope will always be in proportion to the greatness of the good on which we have set our lives.
Hope erodes when we no longer aspire to something sufficiently good enough—something sufficiently blessed and promising—to sustain us in the life that God wants for us. Hope diminishes—and eventually disappears—when we lose sight of who we are and where we are going.
And who are we? We are pilgrims on a journey to God, making our way to God and helping others to do so as well.
Where are we going? We are heading to that great feast that Jesus called the reign of God, the heavenly banquet where we rejoice together in the presence of God and love one another as we do so.
Hope guides us on the journey by keeping us focused on the feast, fixes our sight on the only thing that can ever truly fulfill us and bring peace to our restless hearts, so that we do not settle for anything less than what God wants for us.
We live in a time of diminished hope, because we have lost this sense of ourselves as wayfarers, as pilgrims in the world making our way to God. Instead of moving forward, we settle in and eventually we don’t think of ourselves as going anywhere at all. Hope keeps us from being so immersed in the good things of this world that we forget who we really are— a people on the move, pilgrims who are called not to stay put but to move toward the feast. Hope prevents us from becoming so comfortable with the pleasures of life that the possibility of a journey never even occurs to us.
Early Christian writers maintained that we are most vulnerable to despair not when everything suddenly begins to go wrong in our lives but when we allow ourselves to be lured away from what is best. It isn’t the reality of evil that makes us most susceptible to despair, but letting our hearts be captured by things whose goodness is real, but also limited. They named this turning away from God to lesser gods the vice of Worldliness. The language of Worldliness may seem quaint and even strange to us, but the reality of Worldliness is not.
If hope is a matter of clinging to God— people in the grip of worldliness, cleave to wealth and possessions, pleasures and comforts, status and power and influence, or the endless trinquents with which our culture encourages us to fill our lives.
Every vice damages.
Worldliness is particularly dangerous because we become so enamored of the attractions of this world that we shut the door on what is truly worth the gift of our lives. We rob ourselves of hope’s great promise. What really matters no longer interests us, not because we have consciously rejected it but because we have grown oblivious to it.
Hope is God’s gift to us.
But it is a gift that has to be nurtured and practiced, or else it will shrivel and die. How can we strengthen the Hope that God has entrusted to us? There are many ways to enkindle hope, but here’s two to consider.
First, Hope is nurtured and strengthened through the Eucharist, because every time we gather for worship we are reminded of who we are, what we are about and where we are going. At the Eucharist we remember that we, have been incorporated into the story of God, a story that is much more promising and blessed than anything we could offer ourselves.
Second, Hope grows deeper in us when we commit to being ministers of hope to others. Hope grows when it is shared; it blooms when it is given away.Hope is both a gift and a calling. Because God has given us hope, we are called to bless others with hope, especially those whose lives are bereft of meaning or any sense of purpose.
This is important lest we think that hope focuses so much on the promises of the next life that it distracts us from the work that needs to be done in this life. Because we are confident of the Hope God holds out for us we can attend to the needs of others.
Hope gives us work to do.
We minister hope through acts of kindness and attentiveness.
We minister hope when we help people find healing for hurts that will not go away or for memories that still haunt them.
We minister hope when we affirm the goodness in a person that they may not yet see in themselves.
We minister hope when we ask another how they are doing and take time to listen to what they say.
We minister hope when we forgive and allow ourselves to be forgiven.
We minister hope when love is called forth from us and we gladly give it away.
And we especially minister hope when we affirm the dignity of every person who passes in and out of our lives, when we celebrate their existence, and let them know how poorer the world would be without them.
Hope arises, both in us and in others, when that becomes a regular practice of our lives.
The People who walked in Darkness, have seen a great Light!
This Christmas my our prayer be to live in Hope—To want nothing less for ourselves than what God wants for us. Amen!