An interesting description of hope comes from a French poet Charles Peguy in his book The Portal of the Mystery of Hope. He portrays faith, hope, and love as three sisters. Faith and Love look very important and strong; indeed they are grown adult women. Hope is their immature little sister. As you look at the three sisters it looks like Hope is powerless and unimportant compared to her older sisters. But when one looks closer he sees that it is the energetic sister, Hope, who pulls along her older sisters. Like a puppy that runs back and forth twenty times without tiring as you take her for a walk, she doesn’t grow weary or cautious in the face of disappointments. Hope keeps running and pulls at the hands of her older sisters. Hope gives youth and life to faith and love.
Hope is necessary for salvation, because without hope faith and love don’t persevere. This is why Saint Paul can say that Christians are “saved in hope” (Romans 8:24).
Consider the effects of hope in human trials. Imagine two people who work really awful jobs: all day long, flipping burgers and frying fries. They work seventy hours a week, seven days a week, and they get no vacation time and no gratitude from their employer or from their customers. They think about quitting every day. Now imagine that one person flips these burgers for minimum wage, but the other knows that after working for a year she will be given a check for 10 Million dollars. The first worker will quit after a month. The second one, who holds onto the future hope of a ten million dollar pay-day will gladly flip burgers for a year. In fact she will whistle while she works. (This illustration is from a sermon by Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian church). Her future hope totally transformed her present situation.
But Christian Hope is different than a ten million dollar pay-day. If my future hope is in money or material things, or even future honors or praises, I will be disappointed. These are treasures that “moth and decay destroy” (Matthew 6:19). Technology and Progress are also false objects of hope. Pope Benedict recalls in his encyclical on hope that technology and progress have given gifts and improvements for society, but they have also given progress from sling shots to atom bombs. Even if I seek future fulfillment from people, like my spouse or friends, I will be disappointed. My spouse may be beautiful and truly a gift from God, but ultimately she is still not God and still not perfect, nor should she be. My ultimate hope must be in something that is sure and firm and will never disappoint and will satisfy the deepest longings of my soul.
This hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, is Jesus Christ our Lord (Hebrews 6:19). Jesus is the rock where I anchor my hope. He will never disappoint and he will bring me to eternal life, because he has entered into the inner place behind the curtain, “that is, he died and rose for me as the lamb, whose blood goes before me into presence of God the Father for my forgiveness and makes me an adopted son of the Father.
This hope won’t disappoint because ultimately it doesn’t depend on me. Sure I must cooperate, but ultimately my hope is in God who is merciful and who died for me a sinner. My hope is in Him who loves me with an “unjust mercy”. In the words of Pope Francis, my hope is in Him who knows me, knows my betrayals and loves me just the same, appreciates me, embraces me, calls me again, hopes in me, and expects from me (Cardinal Bergoglio’s words April 27, 2001 about The Attraction of Jesus, a book by Luigi Giussani)
Saint Thérèse illustrates this hope in a letter she wrote to her sister Marie. Marie had been frustrated with her own imperfections and her imperfect love for God. She saw her sister Thérèse and longed to be as good and holy as she. But Thérèse assured her, “my desires for martyrdom are nothing. It is not they which give me the unlimited confidence which I feel in my heart.” Her hope is not in her own goodness, but rather in God’s unbelievable love for her. What pleases God in my little soulÂ is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty: it is the blind hope that I have in His mercy.” (The emphasis is Thérèse’s.) That is my only treasure. Why can it not be yours? To love Jesus, the more one is weak, without desires and without virtues, the more one is suitable for the operations of (God’s) consuming and transforming love. It is confidence and nothing but confidence that must lead us to love. (Quoted from a beautiful book, Maurice and Thérèse, by Patrick Ahern)
How can I have this hope? Here is where faith, hope, and love merge. The Letter to the Hebrews says that Faith is the “substance of things hoped for” (Hebrews 11:1). Faith gives me the gift to know God personally. As I know Him I can begin to love Him. He becomes present in my soul, and the “things hoped for” become present in my heart in embryonic form (Pope Benedict, Spe Salvi 7). Through faith, and hope, and love, I begin to live already as a child of God. This why Saint Paul says that Christians while still on earth are already in some sense raised up to heaven with Christ and are already “seated with him in the Heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6). Through Faith the object of my hope is present in my heart, and I love Him. Hope is the gift whereby I cling to Him and His promises despite what challenges might come my way.
Here is where I see the need to pray. I need quiet time with our Lord to know Him, to Love Him, and to Hope in Him.
By Fr. Pieter vanRooyen
Fr. Pieter van Rooyen is a priest in the Diocese of Lansing. He was ordained in 2010 and is currently studying dogmatic theology in Rome. Most importantly, he is a big fan of St. Thérèse!