The Meaning of Hope
They say that some people see the world through rose colored glasses. They always look on the bright side of things and see the positives in people and events, sometimes to the point of blinding themselves to the very real dark sides of things. There are other people that, we might say, can’t be happy unless they have something to complain about. They always find the negatives in things and often can’t see the positives. Neither of these has anything to do with hope or despair. Hope, as Christians understand it, is the infused virtue by which we have absolute certainly that God will give us everything we need to reach eternal life.
Hope is infused within us. It doesn’t come just from ourselves; it is a gift of God. However, it’s also a virtue that we build up over time by living in the hope of eternal life and keeping our eyes on heaven. It’s like making tea. If you put the tea leaves in cold water, you’ll just get soggy tea leaves. The water has to be heated so it can be infused with the flavors of the tea leaves. It takes work on our part to make ourselves ready to accept the gift of God’s grace, but it doesn’t matter how hot you get the water if you don’t have tea leaves.
Hope is in the middle between two extremes: despair and presumption. Despair is the lack of confidence in God. It’s when we think we can’t possibly be saved, and so we stop trying. Despair is not depression. Depression is an emotional disorder that saps our energy and motivation; it isn’t a sin but a condition that we should seek treatment for. Despair is a choice not to seek the things of God, because we don’t believe that salvation is possible for us.
The other extreme is presumption, which causes us to assume that we’ll be saved regardless of what we do. When we presume on God’s mercy we may fail to do everything we can to overcome our sins and grow in virtue, because we don’t think we have to do anything to prepare ourselves to receive God’s grace.
To grow in hope, I have to remind myself that everything is within God’s providence. When we look back from heaven, God willing, we’ll be amazed to see how God was present and working in every moment of our lives, and we’ll be amazed at how often we failed to see Him, even though He was always with us. Every day, we should put ourselves into God’s hands, but not passively as if we’re waiting for Him to do all of the work. Were the saints passive? No, they were actively listening to where the Holy Spirit was leading and looking for opportunities to do God’s will in the world. The virtue of hope gives us the confidence in faith to know that God is with us and to boldly follow after Him.
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Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.