A new year is always a time to pause, to look back at what has passed already and to look forward to what is yet to come; to take stock, in other words. Sometimes, when we look back we can focus on the darker aspects of life and give less attention to the more positive; similarly, looking around ourselves in the present can have the same effect. Reading the news, for example, it seems always to be filled with stories of horror, death, loss, the state of the world and the direction in which it is heading – but then, good news generally doesn’t ‘sell’.
As Catholics, we are called to witness to something greater than ourselves, to be lights in the darkness, to do something other than stand still in fear; we are called to constantly move forward, always seeing the Cross standing upon Calvary, but also looking beyond this to the joy of the Resurrection. In other words, we are called to live lives filled with hope.
Pope Francis reminded us in 2015 of our need for this gift of hope, particularly for the young and for those who suffer in any way –
“Our time has a great need for hope! The young can no longer be robbed of hope. … The young need hope. It is necessary to offer concrete signs of hope to those who experience pain and suffering.”
St John Paul II very famously said this – “I plead with you – never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid”. He then went on to add this, as the antidote for the misery to which we can sometimes be tempted –
“There is nothing more man needs than Divine Mercy – that love which is benevolent, which is compassionate, which raises man above his weakness to the infinite heights to the holiness of God.”
St Pio of Pietrelcina put it very simply when he said – “Pray, hope and don’t worry!”. This is sage advice, particularly when we look at the world around us, filled as it can be with such misery and despair.
The great St Bernard of Clairvaux was clear on where our hope should be centred –
“Place all your hope in the Heart of Jesus; it is a safe asylum; for he who trusts in God is sheltered and protected by His mercy. To this firm hope, join the practice of virtue, and even in this life you will begin to taste the ineffable joys of Paradise.”
So what is hope? Very broadly, hope can be described as the desire of something, combined with the expectation of receiving it.
Hope is called a ‘theological virtue’, meaning that it relates directly to God. It is one of the three Theological Virtues, the other two being Faith and Charity. The Church describes hope succinctly as “the sure and steadfast anchor of the soul”. The catechism tells us –
“The human virtues are rooted in the theological virtues, which adapt man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature: for the theological virtues relate directly to God. They dispose Christians to live in a relationship with the Holy Trinity. They have the One and Triune God for their origin, motive, and object. The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all the moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life. They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being. There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, para.1812-1813
Clearly, it is a gift from God, one of those three special graces upon which our spiritual lives are built and giving that life meaning and character, enabling us to respond to the workings of the Holy Spirit, as the Catechism goes on to note –
“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.” – Catechism, para.1817
The effects of the gift of hope are clearly defined in the Catechism –
“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” – Catechism, para.1818
The Church tells us that God places within our hearts a desire for Him, and the virtue of hope responds to this desire which is written into us. St Augustine expressed this longing when he said – “our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee”.
As a new year begins, let all of us look forward in hope; what is past is gone forever, and we do not know what is still to be. But let hope infuse our every thought, word and deed, so that we live the lives to which we are called by the good God, in Whom we place all our hope.