Certainly, in our many different sufferings and trials we always need the lesser and greater hopes too—a kind visit, the healing of internal and external wounds, a favorable resolution of a crisis, and so on. In our lesser trials these kinds of hope may even be sufficient. But in truly great trials, where I must make a definitive decision to place the truth before my own welfare, career and possessions, I need the certitude of that true, great hope of which we have spoken here. For this too we need witnesses—martyrs—who have given themselves totally, so as to show us the way—day after day. We need them if we are to prefer goodness to comfort, even in the little choices we face each day—knowing that this is how we live life to the full. Let us say it once again: the capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity. Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon. The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope.
Spe Salvi 39
Reflection – Hope is proved by martyrdom, in other words. We can go along in life, ‘hoping’ things work out—and sometimes they do, amazingly enough! Eventually, though, we are confronted with the situation that does not work out, with the suffering that is not assuaged in human terms, with a choice that must be made, an affliction that must be borne, a sacrifice that is asked of us—and there is little or no prospect of it humanly ‘working out’—in fact, what those words mean can become very murky indeed.
True hope, divine hope, is what alone pulls us through this moment, that choice, those situations. We have to know that our destiny is not earthly happiness, but eternal communion with God. Our goal is not to have everything ‘work out’, but to carried by our Father in heaven into a realm of light beyond anything we can conceive.
If we lose this—if we lose hope—we are reduced in big and small ways, but ultimately in a total way, to the level of expediency, compromise, cynical bids for our own comfort or advantage. The whole way of the world of self-interest and utilitarian calculation.
Yet, as Pope Benedict points out so well, ‘the capacity to suffer for the truth is the measure of our humanity.’ Without this, we lapse into a sub-human, bestial existence where all that matters is that ‘I get what I want.’ But we can only suffer for the truth if we are oriented towards our divine destiny in a deep abiding fashion. So we can only be human if we are open to the divine.
The saints and martyrs are the truly human ones among us: the rest of us are ‘on the way’ (hopefully!), but always with that downward tug into self-seeking which negates our true humanity.
It is Advent, and the Church invites us, not to enter into an orgy of consumption, shopping, eating, drinking, and frenzied socializing, but to look up. To look to the One who is our hope, to renew and place and deepen our hope in the One who carries us through the mazes and abysses of life in this world, and who promises to carry us over the threshold of death into the next world, and who is carrying the whole world towards this mysterious glorious consummation when all will be made well in Him.Only this will free us from the gravitational pull of the self; only this will make our lives truly human; and only this will open us to the fullness of divinity for which we have been made.