The most certain thing about life is death. In the Mass of the Roman liturgy the priest prays: "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ." The three most important elements of this prayer are: peace, freedom from sin and anxiety, and joyful hope.
This prayer of the priest gives voice to the desires of every human heart. Speaking of God, St. Augustine wrote: "Our hearts are restless, until they rest in Thee." We do, indeed, live our lives with restless hearts, hearts that so often seek for that which will quiet their restlessness. We search, certainly, for the kind of security and happiness that is without end, a security and happiness that is complete.
Putting aside this admonition of Augustine, some engage their minds in a seemingly never ending search for that which will satisfy this mysterious need, and put to rest their restlessness. They often persist in their search, even in the face of tragedy and setbacks, disappointments and losses, constantly seeking a love that lasts and a happiness that is not victim to the passage of time or capricious fortune.
Being human, we all share this restlessness and yearning, but we do not all interpret it in the same way; we are not all agreed about its meaning. A religious person, for example, who has faith and believes that he or she has an immortal soul, would find it hard to understand how it is with those who have no faith, but seek to calm the restlessness they feel with some perishable object they believe will bring lasting happiness. A religious person would certainly find difficulty in understanding how anyone could enter the presence of death without some kind of compunction. And yet, this is the way it would seem to be for many; searching for the solace of permanency, but finding only an emptiness that frustrates. We may bury ourselves in our work, we may seek satisfaction in worldly success, and we may immerse ourselves in every sort of physical pleasure and indulgence; but still the satisfaction and peace we seek, we may find to be beyond our reach. Every human experience, whether happy or sad, whether painful or pleasurable contains within the promise of loss. But it is this very suggestion of loss that animates our search, urging and encouraging us to discover something beyond ourselves that will never fade away nor die and that will enable us to grasp life and live it to the full. That something is the virtue of Hope.
"In hope we are saved" wrote Paul to the Romans. Hope is traditionally understood, along with Faith and Love, as best describing Christian existence, Christian life. True hope resides in awareness of what has been begun and possible, but not yet actually come into being. Hope always points the way to something in the future, something coming into reality but not yet there. Again, in his letter to the Romans, Paul asks: "For who hopes for what one sees?" And he answers: "But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance." It is always a good future for which we dare to hope.
But in that good future lays the certainty of death and we must face it. The shadow of death always implying death falls across every aspect of our lives. This is without doubt, the most poignant cause of humanity's melancholy restlessness when contemplating the incompleteness of life lived in this world, whether it is one's own or that of another; death implies finality we cannot avoid. But there is a positive stance we can assume when confronted with the inevitability of death; and this positive stance is the Christian virtue of Hope.
Hope, together with Faith and Charity, are called the "theological virtues'! and comprise the basics for a life ,of virtue, which every Christian is called to lead. But hope, in a sense, goes beyond that; it is an essential element in the whole human complexity. Hope is not just a kind of technique for survival, like whistling in the dark to keep fear out when it comes knocking at your door. Hope is really God's gift to the human spirit, enabling us to encounter the reality within which we live.
The virtue of Hope is sometimes described as expectation, or optimism, and even wishful thinking, but it is none of these. Today's culture seems always ready to obscure the religious nature of Hope. There is a tendency abroad to describe hope of any kind as if it was nothing more than some sort of psychological mood. Let someone tell his psychiatrist that he is troubled by a lack of faith or charity and the psychiatrist will send him to his clergyman; but let someone tell his psychiatrist that he suffers from a lack of hope and his psychiatrist will write him a prescription.
Hope, then, is much more than a mood, or expectation, or optimism, or wishful thinking; hope has nothing to do with these. Hope is strength, a grace, a gift; it really involves grasping and holding fast to a promise made by God himself, our Creator, who is always faithful to his promises and loves each of us as unique and of inestimable value. Thus, it is from belief in God himself that hope derives its credibility. It is hope that enables us to accept life with its possibilities as well as its impossibilities and limitations as they really are," And it is that acceptance that opens for us the possibility of attaining true and lasting joy in this life, For the darkness of the inevitability of death will then be accepted in the light of the hope of resurrection to a new life thereafter.
While the optimist speaks about change for the better in the future, the person of hope lives trusting that God will fulfill all of his promises to us and thus lead us to true happiness and freedom. Think of the great spiritual leaders the world has known: Abraham, Moses, Mary, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Jesus himself, all lived with hope in their hearts guiding them toward a future without even knowing what that future held, what that future would look like. They didn't need to know because they lived each moment of their lives believing and trusting that their lives were in the good and loving hands of God.
And shouldn't it be so with us? Shouldn't we anchor our hope for the future in the eternal faithfulness of God, who raised Jesus from the dead and will raise us too? Of course it should. Let us pray that it will, and let us live with hope.