the virtue of hope

SpeSalviLately I’ve been thinking about hope: in particular, hope as a theological virtue. Given all of the sexual, financial and theological scandal in the Church in recent months, and all of the political scandal in the culture, many of the temptations I face today are temptations against hope. The recent popularity of the movie Joker, for example, impressed me as a troubling bellwether of a climate of despair. And in the Church, even in quarters in which the virtue of faith seems evident, often a corresponding hope is not manifest. Sins against charity are usually easy to spot, but sins against hope tend to be more subtle. The days are dark, and the temptations to let the light of hope be extinguished are legion.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines hope (and defects of hope) as follows:

2090 When God reveals Himself and calls him, man cannot fully respond to the divine love by his own powers. He must hope that God will give him the capacity to love Him in return and to act in conformity with the commandments of charity. Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God; it is also the fear of offending God’s love and of incurring punishment.

2091 The first commandment is also concerned with sins against hope, namely, despair and presumption:

By despair, man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God, for help in attaining it or for the forgiveness of his sins. Despair is contrary to God’s goodness, to his justice – for the Lord is faithful to his promises – and to his mercy

2092 There are two kinds of presumption. Either man presumes upon his own capacities, (hoping to be able to save himself without help from on high), or he presumes upon God’s almighty power or his mercy (hoping to obtain his forgiveness without conversion and glory without merit).

In order to explore the topic of hope more deeply, in the coming weeks I’ll be returning to meditate on Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical Spe Salvi (“Saved in Hope”), which was released on November 30, 2007.

In 2008, I hosted three evenings of discussion of Spe Salvi. All three discussions were audio recorded and edited (roughly!) and are available as audio podcasts:

  • Spe Salvi, paragraphs 1-12: Introduction; Faith is Hope; The concept of faith-based hope in the New Testament and the early Church; Eternal life – what is it?
  • Spe Salvi, paragraphs 13-31: Is Christian hope individualistic?; The transformation of Christian faith-hope in the modern age; The true shape of Christian hope
  • Spe Salvi, paragraphs 32-50: “Settings” for learning and practising hope: Prayer as a school of hope; Action and suffering as settings for learning hope; Judgment as a setting for learning and practicing hope; Mary, Star of Hope

no peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness

As we commemorate the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I think again of the reflection Pope Saint John Paul II wrote shortly afterward on the occasion of the World Day of Peace. It was one of the very first things I posted after launching my website, doxaweb.com, in 2001.

It seems apropos today, both in this context and in the context of the current scandals in the Church.

Forgiveness is in no way opposed to justice, as if to forgive meant to overlook the need to right the wrong done. It is rather the fullness of justice, leading to that tranquility of order which is much more than a fragile and temporary cessation of hostilities, involving as it does the deepest healing of the wounds which fester in human hearts. Justice and forgiveness are both essential to such healing….

No peace without justice, no justice without forgiveness: I shall not tire of repeating this warning to those who, for one reason or another, nourish feelings of hatred, a desire for revenge or the will to destroy.

On this World Day of Peace, may a more intense prayer rise from the hearts of all believers for the victims of terrorism, for their families so tragically stricken, for all the peoples who continue to be hurt and convulsed by terrorism and war. May the light of our prayer extend even to those who gravely offend God and man by these pitiless acts, that they may look into their hearts, see the evil of what they do, abandon all violent intentions, and seek forgiveness. In these troubled times, may the whole human family find true and lasting peace, born of the marriage of justice and mercy!

Pope Saint John Paul II
Message for World Day of Peace 2002

 

a beautiful guide to life in the Spirit

El Greco, Saint John Contemplates the Immaculate Conception, Church of Saint Leocadia and Saint Roman; Museum of Santa Cruz, Toledo.

In honor of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I’m reprinting something from the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. At the beginning of Part Three, Section One (“Man’s Vocation: Life in the Spirit”), the Compendium displays a painting by El Greco, and then provides this gloss:

Mary, the Panhagia (all holy), is the masterpiece of the Holy Spirit (Panhagion). Her existence, from her immaculate conception to her glorious assumption into heaven, is completely sustained by the love of God. The Spirit of the Love of the Father and the Son makes of Mary a new creature, the new Eve. Her heart and mind are intent upon the adoration of and obedience to the heavenly Father. She is his beloved daughter and she is also dedicated to the acceptance and service of the Son, whose mother and disciple she is. Her soul is likewise intent upon her surrender to and cooperation with the Holy Spirit for whom she is a treasured sanctuary.

In this image Mary is surrounded by angels playing musical instruments and making merry, her head crowned with the divine love of the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the dove. Mary is the mother and protector of the Church (at her feet there is a faint glimpse of a sacred edifice). Through her efficacious, motherly intercession with Jesus, she pours out upon the Church the abundance of heavenly graces (symbolized by the tuft of blooming roses).

Below at the left, the apostle John in contemplation of Immaculate Mary represents every one of the faithful who sees in the Blessed Virgin the perfect model and likewise the teacher and guide for living in the Spirit.

The Cistercian abbot Christian (12th century) reflected upon how the apostles shared with Mary their spiritual experiences. Comparing them to the twelve stars which crown the Blessed Virgin, he wrote:

“Frequently they gathered around the most prudent Virgin like disciples around their teacher to learn more fully the truth about what she had done, the truth that they would preach to others at the right moment. Since she was divinely set apart and taught, she showed herself to be a true storehouse of heavenly wisdom since in her daily life she had been close as a singular companion to wisdom itself, namely her Son, and had taken to heart and faithfully kept the things she had seen and heard.” (Sermon I on the Assumption of the Blessed Mary)

I once used this text as the starting point of an RCIA session on the moral life. I’ve posted an audio recording of the session below; the relevant section begins around the 17 minute mark.

 

26 years of the Splendor of Truth

jp2_and_maryTwenty-six years ago today, Saint Pope John Paul II gave the Church an outstanding gift, his letter on the moral life: Veritatis Splendor.

The letter closed with the following reflection and prayer:

Mary shares our human condition, but in complete openness to the grace of God. Not having known sin, she is able to have compassion on every kind of weakness. She understands sinful man and loves him with a Mother’s love. Precisely for this reason she is on the side of truth and shares the Church’s burden in recalling always and to everyone the demands of morality. Nor does she permit sinful man to be deceived by those who claim to love him by justifying his sin, for she knows that the sacrifice of Christ her Son would thus be emptied of its power. No absolution offered by beguiling doctrines, even in the areas of philosophy and theology, can make man truly happy: only the Cross and the glory of the Risen Christ can grant peace to his conscience and salvation to his life.

O Mary,
Mother of Mercy,
watch over all people,
that the Cross of Christ
may not be emptied of its power,
that man may not stray
from the path of the good
or become blind to sin,
but may put his hope ever more fully in God
who is “rich in mercy” (Eph 2:4).
May he carry out the good works prepared
by God beforehand (cf. Eph 2:10)
and so live completely
“for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 6 August, Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, in the year 1993, the fifteenth of my Pontificate.

The Jeweler’s Shop

In the fall of 2014, Open Window Theatre in Minneapolis performed The Jeweler’s Shop, one of my favorite plays. It was written by Karol Wojtyla (who later became Pope St. John Paul II).

The Jeweler's Shop - Open Window Theatre

On Wednesday, October 22, 2014, immediately following a performance of the play, I joined three others in a panel discussion of the text. I don’t know nearly as much about John Paul II, the theater, or the play as the others on the panel, but on the basis of my sheer enthusiasm for the play, I was invited to participate.

Here’s a short description of the play, from the official English translation:

Love is “one of the greatest dramas of human existence,” writes Pope John Paul II. In this illuminating three-act play — here in the only English translation authorized by the Vatican — he explores relationships between men and women, the joys — and the pain — of love and marriage. The action unfolds in two settings at once: a street in a small town, outside the local jeweler’s shop (people go to buy their wedding rings there), and the mysterious inner landscape of personal hopes and fears, loves and longings. Each act focuses on a different couple: the first happily planning their wedding, the second long-married and unhappy, the third about to marry but full of doubts. Writing with power and understanding about a love that survives the grave, a love that has withered and died, a love budding out of complexes and insecurities, the Pope addresses such fundamental human concerns as: What does it mean to fall in love? When do we know that a love is real — and can it last? If it dies, how do we go on living — and loving — again? There are no easy answers, and there is no happy ending — such is the nature of men and women, and such is the nature of love — but there is hope, if we only acknowledge our need and accept the risks of a deep and lasting commitment. This is a play full of wisdom on a subject of great relevance to all, and it provides a special insight into the thoughts of the man who, like no other, has captured the imagination of people of all faiths throughout the world…. Karol Wojtyla — Pope John Paul II — has long been involved with the theater. As a student of literature, then priest, bishop and archbishop, he acted, directed, wrote dramatic criticism, made a Polish translation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, and has authored six plays. (source)

The panel discussion lasted about an hour. Here it is in audio format: