On Hope

Even though I should be practicing more math for the GRE (I’m not trying to be a math teacher, but something tells me that Notre Dame will frown on a 34th percentile quantitative score), I am catching up on my reading in many respects. I spent about half of today and yesterday reading the Bible, catching up on the lectionary readings from all of Advent. It was time-consuming, but exactly the thing I needed after the crunch of school pushed me away from God.

ZENIT has changed recently, adding Gospel commentaries and letters to the editor. I like the commentaries; I could do without the letters. Fr. Cantalamessa, the Preacher to the Pontifical Household, gave a sermon to the Roman Curia where he talked about hope in relation to Advent. I wanted to read Spe Salvi for Advent, but of course that didn’t happen. Fr. Cantalamessa’s sermons were a nice short substitute for a long reflection, though. Lately, half the Church has to prepare a defense to the atheist onslaught pushed by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Philip Pullman. As my friend Guy suggested, it would be best if we could just ignore these Jerry Falwells of the atheist world. We can’t, though, because there are too many people who are just waiting to see who “wins” so they know which side to join. As Fr. Cantalamessa said to support the Christian side of the battle, “If a delusion is able to do what Jesus did in history, Dawkins and others had better reconsider their concept of delusion.”

Speaking about hope, Fr. Cantalamessa offered this interesting and elegant imagery:

Hope has been for a long time and is still now the poor relation among the theological virtues. We speak often of faith, more often of love, but very little about hope.

The poet Charles Péguy is right when he compares the three theological virtues to three sisters: two grown-ups and a little girl. They walk along the street hand-in-hand (the three theological virtues are inseparable!), the two big ones on either side, the little girl in the middle. All who see them are convinced that the two big ones — faith and love — drag along the little girl hope in the middle. But they are mistaken: it is the little girl hope who drags the other two along; if she stops, everything stops.

On my first Spring Retreat, our theme was faith, hope, and love. I had the most trouble with hope then as I do now. The point Fr. Cantalamessa is trying to make, I think, is that without hope, we have nothing. I understand hope as trust. With faith, we believe that God loves us and will save us. With love, we adore him for his love and his works. With hope, we trust that he will do what he has promised.

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