Hope: A Misunderstood Virtue

holy spirit

We all face difficult moments of darkness and anxiety when things can become difficult. Some may become disillusioned with life and lose hope. During these challenging times, hope can also be misunderstood. We may think that it is having a positive attitude or being optimistic. We may place our hope in things of this world, such as our work or charitable projects, thinking they will bring us happiness.

Pope Francis reminds us that true hope is not built on human words or assurances, but on God’s Word and His promise of salvation and eternal life. The Easter season is a time to reflect on the effects of Jesus’ Resurrection, the opening of heaven for humanity. It is a time of joy together. It can also be a good time to reflect on the true nature of hope and on those who can act as models of it for us today.

The Theological Virtue of Hope

Hope is perhaps the most difficult of the three theological virtues to understand. It can be described as an unshakable trust and assurance that the promises of God will be fulfilled. This trust is based on what He has done for us in His Son Jesus, through His Death and Resurrection. Like faith, it is not a human attitude or opinion, but it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the true nature and meaning of the virtue. It states:

Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 1817)

God has placed in each of our hearts the desire and longing for true happiness. The virtue of hope responds to this innermost desire and helps us to place our trust in God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the work and function of hope. It states:

[This virtue] 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. (CCC 1818)

Jesus used the image of the kingdom of God to express the content of our hope. He used parables, images, and symbols to describe what is eternal and invisible to the human eye. St. Paul declares, “Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees?” (Romans 8:24). This gift of the Holy Spirit helps us envision what still cannot be seen and which would otherwise be impossible to expect.

Models of Hope

For St. Paul, hope is a person, it is Christ Himself. It is more than simply a desire for the joys of eternal life, rather is a desire to be with Jesus. To be with the Lord forever is the heart’s deepest desire, even more profound than its desire for life itself (1 Thessalonians 4:17). It stems from the believer’s sincere love of Jesus. St. Paul assures us, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). It is this assurance of the love and presence of Jesus and His Father that allows anyone who is suffering to find encouragement and comfort. Jesus Himself, and His love for each of us, is the reason for our hope.

St. Paul offers Abraham as a model of this virtue. God had promised Abraham that he would have an heir through his wife Sarah and descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky. He had many human reasons for giving up waiting to have a child with Sarah. After all, Abraham and his wife were already advanced in age, he was 99 and Sarah was 90 years old and barren. Yet, Abraham continued to believe that God would be faithful to His promise. St. Paul states, “He believed, hoping against hope, that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’ according to what was said, ‘Thus shall your descendants be’” (Romans 4:18).

Abraham trusted in God’s word and had faith in His creative power to do what appeared to be absolutely impossible. His trust was not based on human assurances but on God’s word. Pope Francis commented on Abraham’s virtue. He stated, “[his] great hope is rooted in faith, and it is precisely for this reason that it is able to go beyond all hope. Yes, because it is based not on our word, but on the Word of God.”

Pope St. John Paul II mentioned that the Blessed Virgin Mary is a models this virtue for the Church. She was also called to believe what was unbelievable in human terms. The archangel Gabriel announced to her that she would become the mother of God. She opened her heart and trusted in God’s guidance. Mary placed her trust in the everlasting kingdom which her Son had come to establish.  She stood faithfully by His cross. Hope is what filled the Blessed Virgin Mary’s heart during the dark days after her Son’s death on the cross. From Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, Mary’s heart remained filled as she waited for Jesus to rise from the dead just as He had said (Mark 8:31). She waited patiently for God’s promise to be fulfilled. After Pentecost, she strengthened the Church’s hope when they encountered difficulties, suffering, and persecution.

Pope John Paul II stated in Mary: Model of Faith, Hope, and Charity:

[Mary] is thus the Mother of hope for the community of believers and for individual Christians, and she encourages and guides Her children as they await the kingdom, supporting them in their daily trials and throughout the events of history, however tragic.

Hoping This Easter Season

The Easter season, and in particular, the Ascension of our Lord, reminds us that we must not place our hope in earthly things. Instead, we must place it in Jesus, who has gone to prepare a place for us in heaven and whose love sustains and comforts us in our daily lives. Hope is not the same as optimism, it is not based on human assurances, but on the promise and word of God. It calls us to accept what is difficult for us to understand in God’s plans. True hope does not disappoint. Let us ask the Lord to strengthen our hope in times of darkness and to help us to be a source of hope for others.

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