The virtue of hope is a gift from God that instills in us a desire for eternal life and God’s gift of unending, perfect happiness. It strengthens us and helps us to direct our life toward heavenly ends.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
30 November 2017
Today we celebrate the Feast of Saint Andrew, Apostle. The readings at Mass offer an important prelude to the season of Advent, which begins this Sunday. Advent is a sacred time characterized by the theological virtue of hope that looks forward in joyful anticipation to the coming of Christ, the incarnate Son of God sent from the Father on a mission of redemption and salvation.
The first reading (Rom 10:9-18) begins with these words from St. Paul:
Brothers and sisters: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
Christ is the source of our hope, in his Divine and Human Person is found the promise of eternal life. By virtue of faith and baptism, Christ sends his Spirit into our hearts and infuses the soul of the Christian with his divine life, instilling in those he loves with the sublime virtue of hope. The Catechism offers this teaching on hope:
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…. (CCC 1817)
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; 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. (CCC 1818)
We can therefore hope in the glory of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. In every circumstance, each one of us should hope, with the grace of God, to persevere “to the end” and to obtain the joy of heaven, as God’s eternal reward for the good works accomplished with the grace of Christ. In hope, the Church prays for “all men to be saved.” She longs to be united with Christ, her Bridegroom, in the glory of heaven:
Hope, O my soul, hope. You know neither the day nor the hour. Watch carefully, for everything passes quickly, even though your impatience makes doubtful what is certain, and turns a very short time into a long one. Dream that the more you struggle, the more you prove the love that you bear your God, and the more you will rejoice one day with your Beloved, in a happiness and rapture that can never end. (St. Teresa of Avila; CCC 1821)
In today’s gospel (Mt 4:18-22), we hear the story of how Christ was “walking by the Sea of Galilee” and saw Simon, Andrew, James, and John, who he called to follow him. All these men, on hearing the call of Jesus, at once “left their nets and followed him.”
It’s a moving gospel characterized by an active response to divine love. As these men looked into the eyes of Jesus, they saw something far greater than anything the world has to offer. Perhaps they did not understand that Christ is the source and end of every authentic human hope, but in some way, they were touched in the depth of their hearts by that truth. And it moved them. Immediately, they left behind their former occupation as fishermen in order to embark on an entirely new journey toward an unknown horizon.
It was a journey that entailed risk, challenge, fear, suffering, demands, sacrifice, confusion, heartbreak, and martyrdom. Yet those things were its beginning, not its end. You see, the journey ends not in pain and death but in the new life Christ offers in his resurrection from the dead to those who love him. The gift of hope makes it possible to endure the world, discard what we must, and live in a way that is directed toward eternal life.
When we encounter Jesus, his gift of hope warms the heart and lifts the eyes to heaven above. It calls us beyond the constraints of self-centeredness to embrace the selfless love that is itself the pattern of his life and mission. It gives us new strength and purpose because its source is the supernatural strength and purpose of Christ himself.
Prepare for Advent. Embrace the gift of hope and set your eyes on heavenly things above. Leave the old behind, as did St. Andrew, and cultivate your heart, embracing Christ who calls, heals, restores, and confers on men the gift of eternal life. Jesus desires to warm your heart this moment, right now, with the sublime, life-transforming gift and promise of hope.
Photo Credit: Raphael [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.