The power of the virtue of hope is both essential and amazing. With the virtue of hope, we can not only overcome the many challenges we face here below, but even in the midst of these challenges we remain focused on attaining the promises of Christ.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
29 Nov 2020
The great question for each of us on this First Sunday of Advent is: Do I have a powerful hope in Christ? When you hear the words from our gospel today (Mark 13:33-37), “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,” how do they stir your heart?
Do they make you feel fearful, knowing the time of judgment is approaching, or do they stir up a mysterious excitement within? An expectant, joyful anticipation?
Advent is a penitential season, which is signified by the purple vestments the clergy wear. Advent is also a season of hope. As Christians, Advent is a season in which we shore up our hope in Christ. During Advent we look forward to the second coming of Christ at the end of time, as well as to the celebration of the birth of the Christ-Child on Christmas. Advent also leads us to foster an excited expectation to meet the Lord at the moment of our death.
What is Hope?
There are two main categories of hope. One is natural and the other is supernatural.
In terms of natural hope, we might think about how a college student hopes to land a job after graduation, or about how a woman hopes to find a good husband who wants to raise a family.
People talk about a “hope for a better future.” Given the extreme challenges we’re facing as a nation, people are saying things like, “I hope America survives this.” Or “I hope something can be done to put a stop to the criminality and corruption from the political left, the media, big tech oligarchs, academia, and sex-trafficking Hollywood elites.” Of particular concern to worshipping Catholics and other Christians, we hope that the unjust restrictions on our right to public worship will soon be eliminated.
And, of course, in all these cases, people must take action in some way in order to see their hopes realized. A college student must look for a job; a person seeking to marry must look for a spouse. If we wish to see an end to corruption, criminal activity, and election fraud we must pursue justice.
The other category of hope is supernatural. Here I’m speaking of the theological virtue of hope. This is a very different kind of hope than natural hope, because it’s unfused into our souls by God at baptism and increased by the other sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Hope is a supernatural gift from God. It’s given to us for very specific purposes.
The theological virtue of hope directs our minds and hearts to hope in the promises of Christ. This kind of hope raises our eyes to the heavens. It orders our intellects and wills to the promises of Christ. With the virtue of hope, we can say we hope in Christ’s promise of eternal life, we look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come, we anticipate salvation for those who die loving the Lord (see CCC, 1817 – 1821).
The theological virtue of hope also helps us to get through these difficult times here below. It keeps us from discouragement, which is essential in battling the malicious ills we’re facing in our attempts to better order our society and nation to the will of God. Hope shores us up, gives us strength to endure challenges, and purifies our lives by gifting us with the power to raise our minds and hearts to God. It directs our activities here below for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. With eyes of hope, we see everything in a transcendent, divine light. Hope helps us to live our lives in Christ and point our lives toward him.
The virtue of hope reminds us to trust in Christ—not in ourselves. It moves us to seek his grace and rely on it. Without the theological virtue of hope, we all too easily succumb to difficulties and fall into despair. We begin to feel as if we cannot endure the challenges ahead. However, with hope, we march forward confidently in Christ.
The Virtue of Hope: It’s like a Christian Survival Kit for Life.
In our first reading from Isaiah, we get a strong sense of the way the prophet is calling out in hope to the Lord. He asks, “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways?” (Isa 63:17).
Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old.”Isa 63:19
Because hope in Christ is a virtue, we must strive to develop it and build it up. For example, if we’re lax in praying or lax in worshipping our Lord, if we lax in living a morally praiseworthy life—all these things tend to suppress the virtue of hope. The greater are our worldly ambitions, the more the virtue of hope wanes or perhaps even disappears. The more we turn our attention away from heavenly things, the more we struggle with hope.
Like every virtue—which is a good habit practiced until it becomes second nature—we must practice and develop the virtue of hope.
Two Ways to Nourish The Virtue of Hope
First of all, seek the grace of Christ in prayer and in the sacraments and rely on his grace, as St. Paul reminded us today: God has bestowed grace on you in Christ, “so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.”
Next, cultivate humility in the Lord. At the end of our reading from Isaiah, the prophet prays to God and says, “Yet, O LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands” (Isa 64:7). Our lives are in the hands of God.
Humility is also a virtue. It can be defined as an honest assessment of who you are in relation to God. God is the Creator and Father. You are his creature and his child. If you wish to nourish hope, cultivate humility.
Hope = Supernatural Power
The virtue of hope grants us a supernatural power from God himself, that allows us to live beyond the world while yet residing in the world. All its energy flows from Christ and is directed back toward him.
The effects of the virtue of hope are truly astonishing. It’s hope that leads the martyrs to sacrifice even their own lives for the sake of their faith in Christ.
An example is the three Carmelite nuns who were martyred during the Spanish Civil War in 1936 and beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987.
After a coup to replace a corrupted government regime in June of 1936 failed, a violent civil war broke out in Spain. Many acts of violence were perpetrated on both sides against anyone who was viewed as an enemy. Leftists of a communist persuasion held the Church, priests, and religious in contempt and began to murder them in droves. When a militia group took over the city of Guadalajara, eighteen nuns in the convent of St Joseph feared their convent would be burned, so they scattered through the streets, disguised in secular clothes to avoid attention.
Sisters Maria of the Angels, Maria Pilar, and Teresa hid in the basement of the Hibernia Hotel. Two days later, when they left the hotel to look for better shelter, a woman standing with a group of soldiers eating lunch in a parked jeep saw them walking down the street, recognized them, and shouted to her companions: “Shoot them! They’re nuns!”
Sister Maria of the Angels was the first to die with a bullet through her heart.
Sister Maria Pilar, also hit, cried out, “Viva Cristo Rey!” (Long live Christ the King). The soldiers, furious at the pious exclamation, shot the unarmed nun repeatedly and slashed her with a knife. As she lay bleeding and dying, she prayed aloud, “My God, pardon them. They don’t know what they are doing.”
Sister Teresa as of yet was unharmed. A soldier, feigning concern, gathered some of his companions and led her to a nearby cemetery, presumably intending to rape her. As they went, the soldiers angrily insisted that she praise communism. She resisted by fearlessly speaking out against them. Each time they made their demands, she cried out: Viva Cristo Rey!” Finally, they told her to walk a few steps ahead. She spread her arms in the form of a cross and was shot in the back. (1)
Fear of death did not overcome these nuns. Filled with the virtue of hope, they were not deterred from their final destiny. By their intimacy with Christ, they remained convinced that he would keep his promises, as we read in the book of Revelation: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (2:10).
That’s the power of the virtue of hope.
The great question for each of us on this First Sunday of Advent is: Do I have a powerful hope in Christ? When you hear the words “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,” how do they stir your heart?
- epriest.com. This Illustration adapted from Cynthia Cavnar’s “The Saints from A to Z“.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.