“The power of God is capable of finding hope where hope no longer exists, and a way where the way is impossible.” (St. Gregory of Nyssa)
In imagery and description the virtue of hope is a play between tensions. Hope moves one into the future – “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing out 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) – yet hope is often symbolized as an anchor – “Hope is the ‘sure and steadfast anchor of the soul … that enters … where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.’” (CCC #1820) This play of tensions reveals the always dynamic quality of true hope and also why hope always eludes a static definition. It seems that it is the very nature of hope to remain unbounded.
This unbounded nature to hope is due, I believe, to the fact that God himself has placed a yearning and “not yet” quality in the heart of every man and woman. “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…” And also that God has answered this yearning in Christ and in the continual unfolding of the Kingdom, “Christian hope unfolds from the beginning of Jesus’ preaching in the proclamation of the beatitudes. The beatitudes raise our hope toward heaven as the new Promised Land; they trace the path that leads through the trials that await the disciples of Christ. (CCC # 1820)
The yearning is within us and the answer to that deepest yearning of the human heart is found without in that which is so much more than any one individual and that to which all creation is moving – the very Kingdom of God. Due to this the theological virtue of hope fulfills our deepest individual yearning yet does so in a way that connects us to one another and to all creation. A “hope” that would separate and divide is, in fact, a false hope.
True hope also respects freedom. It cannot but respect freedom in order to be true to itself. I am now a priest of seventeen years and I have served in a variety of settings and I must admit that I have never before been in a setting (college campus ministry for five years) where people and groups are so intent on forming other persons in their own image while at the same time there is so much talk of “respect for free thought” and “being yourself”. Why is it that “being yourself” means you have to look and act like everyone else? This is across the board: social groups, academic groups and settings, religious groups, opposed to religion groups, whatever. There is this overwhelming push it seems to form others in one’s own image and this can be subtle or just outright blatant and manipulative in nature. In this context, if a group does not seek to form others in its own image and has developed the maturity to respect freedom then it is written off as just naïve, out of touch at best or questionable and even suspect at worse.
But true hope respects freedom. It must. This is why any form of totalitarianism (and there are many) that would restrict freedom and conscience, sometimes under the seemingly most benign and even most “positive” of reasons, in fact, ends up suppressing hope. Yet even though hope can be wounded it can never fully be lost because the author of hope is God himself.
If hope can be suppressed (but never fully lost) then it can also be cultivated in one’s life. How might we cultivate the ground of our lives in such a way that hope might come to dwell within us? Our faith gives some strong advice: turn to God and develop a relationship with him in both prayer and sacrament, avoid sin and evil, if one has sinned ask for mercy and pardon (i.e. the sacrament of reconciliation), get out of yourself and strive to live in harmony with others and even go beyond just that to specifically doing good for others and serving others – especially the poor and even those who oppose you, live in a community which supports and strives for all of the above mentioned, i.e. the Catholic Church.
Our own actions and also the actions of others upon us (both positive and negative) can either cultivate our life for hope or turn us further away from the possibility of hope. In this regard our choices and the choices of others do have effects and do carry consequences.
Hope is truly beautiful and when it is authentically found in the life of a person it does speak to the souls and deep yearning of others. In the person of hope we know that there is just something there that we ourselves are searching for.
Hope does not disappoint.