Let us say once again: we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. The fact that it comes to us as a gift is actually part of hope. God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is “truly” life.
Spe Salvi, 31
Reflection – Well, once again Pope Benedict nails it on the head. As I mentioned a few days ago, I just did a retreat for 83 teenagers of the Pembroke diocese. It was a lovely, if somewhat exhausting, experience. I love young people. I love their energy, their enthusiasm, their intensity. I love their earnest seeking and questioning, their often very serious doubts about life and faith, and their determination to figure something out about all of it in the face of much turmoil and adolescent hormonal/social/emotional/familial upheaval.
It’s an extraordinarily difficult period in life, but very beautiful, and I love to be part of it and offer whatever help to them a middle-aged dude with a Roman collar can offer. Which might be quite a lot, actually, if they’re willing to receive it… (but that’s another story).
What I also love about young people is the natural quality of hope they possess in abundance. Their lives are open before them; possibilities stretch out in all directions. Within the limits of their inherent abilities and talents, they could really end up doing and being just about anything. Hope in its natural form is super-abundant in youth, and it is a beautiful sight.
The Pope here makes the essential point, though, that natural hope is not itself virtuous. Virtues always perfect the person; a natural hope can be misguided or even wicked: e.g. “Gee, I sure hope my plan to rob the liquor store comes off OK!” Or, “I hope I end up playing for the Ottawa Senators!” Uh, no, Fr. Denis—that’s not really a realistic hope.
Natural hope has to be perfected by this mysterious virtue of hope, this hope that takes everything we desire, all our plans and dreams and yearnings and ideas about life, extracts from the heart of all of it what we really want—happiness, joy, ‘life itself’, as the Pope so well puts it—and then informs us by the closely connected gift of faith that all of that is held for us in God and God alone.
All our little hopes, our human hopes, everything we so deeply desire and dream of, is fundamentally a desire for God. And theological hope, the gift of hope, the virtue of hope, raises our minds and hearts, sets our eyes and directs our feet, on this upward path to the fulfillment of all our desires.
And Pope Benedict so ably points out that this deep hope is not only for some future kingdom of heaven that awaits us when we die (‘goin up to the spirit in the sky…’). It is found where love is found, where God is loved, and where His love comes to us. Faith leads to hope, and hope is fulfilled in love.And in this all the energy and excitement of youth, all the dedication and commitment of young adulthood, all the long years of cross bearing and hard labor of middle age, all the latter years of surrender and letting go, all become expressions and movements of this faith-hope-love dynamic. It’s all about God, and God is all about love and life poured out for all who look to Him for the fulfillment of all our desires.