The Hopeful Man Does Not Despair in Suffering

hope is hearts in heaven, not heads in clouds

Desire for things we do not yet fully possess drives so much of our lives. Even when we ask one another, “How are you?” the detailed answers tend not toward what we are in the current moment, but what we “will be” after something else is achieved and reached. “Fine,” we say, “I’m almost done with this big project and then I can rest.” But we don’t rest. We just move on to the next desire or goal.

The theological virtue of hope rests not only on the reality that we long for fulfillment in life, but that this longing will be answered definitively in God, in heaven. Hope is literally infinitely greater than any “natural” or “worldly” hope, which often mere optimism, drive, idealism, enthusiasm etc. The virtue of hope acknowledges that our insatiable desire for more is just that: insatiable. The simple reason our desires keep compelling us forward is that our deepest desire is infinite. It is our longing for God. Any lesser fulfillment should only point us to this deepest and greatest longing. To hope is not to wish that God will answer this call by coming to us in this life with full union in the next, but to know that it is so. In hope we are sure and secure.

“Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest remains, let us fear lest any of you be judged to have failed to reach it” (Heb. 4:1). “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promise” (Heb. 6:11-12). The “not yet” of salvation does not spur us to despair, but to loving action, “for the word of God is living and active… Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:12, 16). Hope is not just the promise of a future heaven, but the pledge of help in getting there. Faith is trust in what God has said, trust in God as a living and active reality.  

“[We] have obtained access, by faith, to that grace in which we stand,” said St. Paul, “We are confident in the hope of attaining glory as the sons of God” (Rom. 2:2). Pope Benedict XVI said the Christian message is “not only ‘informative’ but ‘performative” – it does something here and now. Hope does not kick the fulfillment-can down the road and into eternity. It is not, “Well, this life is hell. So, let us hope the next one is heavenly!” No, the fact that heaven is our end, the very trajectory of our being, completely shapes and inspires our life on earth. It is a great paradox that that which looks to the next life effects this one so drastically.

This is despite accusations to the otherwise; accusations that by having your head in the clouds (on heavenly things) it basically buries it in the sand in this life. Like many cliché accusations against Christians, it needs repetition because evidence disproves it. It is the Catholic Church that is both the champion of heaven and the champion of the poor, marginalized, neglected, suffering. It is the saints that are radically present to all they encounter – they are not the ones with their heads in the clouds or sand. Hopefulness leads to presence, not aloofness. The saints, through their hope, blur the lines between this life and the next. “The fact that this future exists changes the present,” said Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical on hope, “the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future.”

St. Maximillian Kolbe commenting on difficult times:

“The cause of the causes” of our present crisis is the lack of honesty and the shirking of responsibility.  The failure to carry out our fundamental duties to God, to our neighbor and indeed to our very selves is commonplace in life today.  This is simply a total lack of genuine love, a substitution of sentiment for the reality of love and a failure to acknowledge it for what it is, an exercise in crass dishonesty. All of us, without exception, must examine our consciences and make a sincere confession and live as authentic Catholics.  You would be surprised at the rapidity in the renewal of entire countries to follow on this, the stabilization of their economic-financial order in support of all citizens and families, and their reaffirmation of the dignity of work. At the origin and core of every personal and social misery is sin. In Poland after the First World War we all began to live as lords and ladies. A great multiplication of meetings and a corresponding reduction of work-time to the level of insufficiency; all too frequent theft of public monies and little organization of work became commonplace. The Immaculate must show us the way out of the crisis. She must be present in Parliament, in Congress. Men cannot live for long if they insist on living as though God does not exist, as though Christ the Savior has not come

Catechism 1818: The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.

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