The Christian’s Hope | A Homily by St. Josemaria Escriva
I was deeply moved by the Epistle in today’s Mass, and I imagine the same will have happened to you. I realized that God was helping us, through the words of the Apostle, to contemplate the divine interlacing of the three theological virtues which form the backing upon which the true life of every Christian man or woman has to be woven.
Let us listen once again to the words of St Paul: ‘Since we are justified by faith, let us enjoy peace with God through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access, by faith, to that grace in which we stand and we rejoice in the hope of attaining glory as the sons of God. More than that, we rejoice even in our afflictions, knowing well that affliction gives rise to patience, and patience brings perseverance, and perseverance brings hope, and this hope does not disappoint us: for the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.’
Here in the presence of God who is presiding over us right now from the Tabernacle (how reassuring it is to have Jesus so very close to us!) we are going to meditate today on the virtue of hope, that gentle gift from God which makes our hearts overflow with gladness, spe gaudentes, joyful, for if we are faithful an everlasting Love awaits us.
Let us never forget that for all men, and therefore for each and every one of us, there are only two ways of living on this earth: either we lead a divine life, striving to please God; or we set him aside and live an animal-like existence, guided to a greater or lesser degree by human enlightenment. I have never given too much credit to the ‘do-gooders’ who pride themselves on their unbelief. I love them truly, as I do all mankind who are my brothers. I admire their good will which in certain aspects may even be heroic. But I also feel sorry for them because they have the immense misfortune of lacking the light and the warmth of God, and the indescribable joy which comes from the theological virtue of hope.
The true Christian, who acts according to his faith, always has his sights set on God. His outlook is supernatural. He works in this world of ours, which he loves passionately; he is involved in all its challenges, but all the while his eyes are fixed on Heaven. St Paul brings this out very clearly: quae sursum sunt quaerite; ‘seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Savor the things of Heaven, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead’, to worldliness, through Baptism, ‘and your life is hidden with Christ in God.’
There are many who repeat that hackneyed expression ‘while there’s life there’s hope’, as if hope were an excuse for ambling along through life without too many complications or worries on one’s conscience. Or as if it were a pretext for postponing indefinitely the decision to mend one’s ways and the struggle to attain worthwhile goals, particularly the highest goal of all which is to be united with God.
If we follow this view, we will end up confusing hope with comfort. Fundamentally, what is wrong with it is that there is no real desire to achieve anything worthwhile, either spiritual or material. Thus some people’s greatest ambition boils down to avoiding whatever might upset the apparent calm of their mediocre existence. These timid, inhibited, lazy souls, full of subtle forms of selfishness, are content to let the days, the years, go by sine spe nec metu, without setting themselves demanding targets, nor experiencing the hopes and fears of battle: the important thing for them is to avoid the risk of disappointment and tears. How far one is from obtaining something, if the very wish to possess it has been lost through fear of the demands involved in achieving it!
Then there is the superficial attitude of those for whom hope is a sort of idyllic fantasy, often presented under the guise of culture and learning. As they are incapable of facing up to themselves squarely and of choosing to do good, they say that hope is merely an illusion, a utopian dream, a bit of relief from the anxieties of a hard life. For these people hope has become frivolous wishful-thinking, leading nowhere. What a false idea of hope!
But along with these timid and frivolous types, we also find here on earth many upright individuals pursuing noble ideals, even though their motives are often not supernatural, but merely philanthropic. These people face up to all kinds of hardship. They generously spend themselves serving others, helping them overcome suffering and difficulties. I am always moved to respect and even to admiration by the tenacity of those who work wholeheartedly for noble ideals. Nevertheless, I consider I have a duty to remind you that everything we undertake in this life, if we see it exclusively as our own work, bears from the outset the stamp of perishability. Remember the words of Scripture: ‘I considered all that my hands had done and the effort I had spent doing it, and I saw that all was vanity and a striving after wind, with nothing gained under the sun.’
This precariousness does not stifle hope. On the contrary, once we recognise the insignificant and contingent nature of our earthly endeavours, the way is then open for true hope, a hope which upgrades all human work and turns it into a meeting point with God. An inexhaustible light then bathes everything we do and chases away the dark shadows of disappointment. But if we transform our temporal projects into ends in themselves and blot out from our horizon our eternal dwelling place and the end for which we have been created, which is to love and praise the Lord and then to possess him for ever in Heaven, then our most brilliant endeavours turn traitor, and can even become a means of degrading our fellow creatures. Remember that sincere and well-known exclamation of St Augustine, who had such bitter experience when God was unknown to him and he was seeking happiness outside God: ‘You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they rest in you!’ Perhaps there is no greater tragedy for man than the sense of disillusionment he suffers when he has corrupted or falsified his hope, by placing it in something other than the one Love which satisfies without ever satiating.
In my case, and I wish the same to happen to you, the certainty I derive from feeling — from knowing — that I am a son of God fills me with real hope which, being a supernatural virtue, adapts to our nature when it is infused in us, and so is also a very human virtue. I am happy because I am certain we will attain Heaven if we remain faithful to the end; I rejoice in the thought of the bliss that will be ours, quoniam bonus, because my God is good and his mercy infinite. This conviction spurs me on to grasp that only those things that bear the imprint of God can display the indelible sign of eternity and have lasting value. Therefore, far from separating me from the things of this earth, hope draws me closer to these realities in a new way, a Christian way, which seeks to discover in everything the relation between our fallen nature and God, our Creator and Redeemer.
Reproduced by the St. Josemaria Institute with permission. The content is intended for the free use of readers, and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from ©The Studium Foundation (www.escrivaworks.org).