Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J

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We begin to live the spiritual life by faith. Soon, we meet difficulties which generate fear. To conquer these fears and persevere in the spiritual life we need the virtue of hope.

Christian hope is not to be confused with natural hope which is so characteristic of our age. Man’s confidence in himself, in his own talents, power and energy, and in the material resources at his command has accomplished many great things. But it has also brought about great tragedies. Christian hope is much more realistic. It is built on the realization of our weakness, the limitations of human nature, the manifold difficulties of human life and the absolute necessity of the grace of God.

The Christian’s hope is not in himself but in Jesus Christ. When we look at ourselves and at the difficulties of the present state of the world, we get discouraged. But when we turn to Jesus we are reassured. “In the world you will have trouble, but be brave I have conquered the world.”

Hope is not only necessary for our salvation, it is our very life. We were created by God. God continually holds us in existence and must cooperate in every action we perform. “In him we live and move and have our being.” We cannot fly from him, we cannot hide from him, we cannot exist without him. What can we do if we do not hope in him?

The lack of hope has wrecked more promising careers than anything else. We are stumbling and crawling on the road to salvation when we could be running in the way of perfection, if only we were shod with the virtue of hope. How many great things are left undone because of the lack of hope?

Virtue stands in the middle. Hope is a good example of that truth. The practice of hope is like walking on a tight rope. A fall on either side could be fatal. On one side of the virtue of hope is despair, and on the other side is presumption. A consideration of these two sins will illustrate the true nature of Christian hope.

Despair is the total loss of hope. It is a sin which is on the increase today. The number of suicides is increasing daily. What is more alarming is the temptation to despair on the part of so many others. “To be or not to be?” That is the question many people are asking themselves. Is it really worth living? Human life is not an adventure for a coward. It is impossible without hope. Someone who does not have hope has nothing to live for and will find it difficult to avoid sin. And with each sin comes further despair. God’s mercy can save him, but he no longer has hope in God.

It is interesting to note that the deification of man and the increase in despair are found together. The reason is that they are closely related. One is the cause of the other. If a man makes a god of himself then when his situation becomes intolerable and he can no longer cope with life, there is nothing left for him but despair. Playing God is the root of despair.

Thomas Merton wrote that despair is, ultimately, a form of pride that chooses misery instead of accepting the mysterious designs of God’s plans and acknowledging that we are not capable of fulfilling our destinies by ourselves. Despair places our own limited perspective above God’s.

Perhaps we have never been tempted to this total loss of hope in God, but we are all guilty of a partial loss of hope in God which manifests itself in worry.
Worry is really a misuse of two wonderful faculties God has given us to make life more enjoyable. God has given us a memory so that we could reach back into memory’s storeroom and relive and re-enjoy the wonderful moments of success and happiness in our past lives. Unfortunately we use the memory more often to call forth moments of sorrow and failure and in their remembrance re-suffer and regret them.

God has also given us an imagination which enables us to cooperate with Him in the development of the world. Every discovery, every invention, every piece of art is the fruit of someone’s imagination. Without imagination the world would indeed be dull. Unfortunately, we use our imagination more often to project future possible difficulties and trials and in their anticipation suffer more than in the reality.

We are all historians and prophets. We live in the past and in the future when the only reality is the present. We would all worry less if we realized how unreasonable it is. Shadow boxing is good training for a prizefighter, but to box imaginary ills is a waste of time and a drain of energy. Worry is a luxury no one can afford. The cost is too high. It robs us of our sleep, takes away our appetite, drains off energy and can lead to a complete breakdown of health.

What are the remedies for worry? The first is to live in the present moment.
This is the only reality. Spiritual writers speak of the sacrament of the present moment. Each moment is a sacrament, a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace. Every moment of our life is a sensible sign coming to us in the concrete circumstances in which we find ourselves. Every moment of our life comes from Christ. And it brings with it grace. And this is the important point. It bring with it grace, not for yesterday, not for tomorrow, but for this present moment. Many breakdowns are the result of trying to carry yesterday’s load and tomorrow’s possible load on today’s grace. It cannot be done.

God knows human nature. He created it. And in His wisdom and mercy He knows better than to give His graces all at one time. He metes them out daily over the course of our lives. In the Sacrament of Matrimony, for example, the contracting parties do not receive on their wedding day all of the graces flowing from that sacrament. They would be squandered long before the end of the honeymoon. The grace they receive on their wedding day gives them the title to other graces which will be given when they are needed.

Yesterday is history. We commit it to the mercy of God. Past sins, if they have been confessed, are forgiven. These past sins can be the occasion of great graces. Jesus said that to whom little is forgiven loves little. Would the good thief on the cross have received the promise of paradise if he had not been a criminal who was crucified with Christ?

Tomorrow may never come. We commit it to the Providence of God. God rules the world and everything in it. Nothing happens by chance. Everything that happens in this world is either positively willed by God or at least permitted by God. And to those who love Him all of these things, the evil as well as the good, work together for good. We commit the past to the mercy of God and the future to the Providence of God. And we have the grace of God for today. By living today we make a beautiful dream of the past and a wonderful hope for the future.

On one side of the virtue of hope is despair and on the other side is presumption. Whereas despair is a total loss of hope, presumption is based on a false hope. The one who ends up in despair started out to do it all himself. The one who ends up in presumption started out by expecting God to do it all. The unemployed laborer who sits at home and prays that God will send him a job without his searching for one is guilty of presumption.
In itself presumption is not as serious a sin as despair. For the one who is presumptuous does not deny the mercy of God. In fact, he relies on God’s mercy to the total exclusion of His justice.

Without God we can do nothing. It is equally true that without us God will do nothing. St. Augustine said that God who created us without our willing it will not save us without our willing it. The virtue of hope does not make human effort superfluous, it demands it. So we must work as if it all depends on us and hope as if it all depends upon God. To try when there is little hope is to risk failure. Not to try at all is to guarantee it.


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