The Theological Virtues: Hope

An Exert from Friends of God by Saint Josemaria Escriva. Numbers 210 – 213.

“God did not create us to build a lasting city here on earth, because ‘this world is the way to that other, a dwelling place free from care’. Nevertheless, we children of God ought not to remain aloof from earthly endeavours, for God has placed us here to sanctify them and make them fruitful with our blessed faith, which alone is capable of bringing true peace and joy to all men wherever they may be. Since 1928 I have constantly preached that we urgently need to christianise society. We must imbue all levels of mankind with a supernatural outlook, and each of us must strive to raise his daily duties, his job or profession, to the order of supernatural grace. In this way all human occupations will be lit up by a new hope that transcends time and the inherent transience of earthly realities.

Through Baptism we are made bearers of the word of Christ, a word which soothes, enkindles and reassures the wounded conscience. For Our Lord to act in us and for us, we must tell him that we are ready to struggle each day, even though we realise we are feeble and useless, and the heavy burden of our personal shortcomings and weakness weighs down upon us. We must tell him again and again that we trust in him and in his help: if necessary, like Abraham, hoping ‘against all hope’. Thus we will go about our work with renewed vigour, and we will teach others how to live free from worry, hate, suspicion, ignorance, misunderstandings and pessimism, because God can do everything.

Wherever we may be, Our Lord urges us to be vigilant. His plea should lead us to hope more strongly in our desires for holiness and to translate them into deeds. ‘Give me your heart, my son,’ he seems to whisper in our ear. Stop building castles in the air. Make up your mind to open your soul to God, for only in Our Lord will you find a real basis for your hope and for doing good to others. If we don’t fight against ourselves; if we don’t rebuff once and for all the enemies lodged within our interior fortress — pride, envy, the concupiscence of the flesh and of the eyes, self-sufficiency, and the wild craving for licentiousness; if we abandon this inner struggle, our noblest ideals will wither ‘like the bloom on the grass; and when the scorching sun comes up the grass withers, and the bloom falls, and all its fair show dies away’. Then, all you need is a tiny crevice and discouragement and gloom will creep in, like encroaching poisonous weeds.

Jesus is not satisfied with a wavering assent. He expects, and has a right to expect, that we advance resolutely, unyielding in the face of difficulties. He demands that we take firm, specific steps; because, as a rule, general resolutions are just fallacious illusions, created to silence the divine call which sounds within our hearts. They produce a futile flame that neither burns nor gives warmth, but dies out as suddenly as it began.

You will convince me that you sincerely want to achieve your goals when I see you go forward unwaveringly. Do good and keep reviewing your basic attitudes to the jobs that occupy you each moment. Practise the virtue of justice, right where you are, in your normal surroundings, even though you may end up exhausted. Foster happiness among those around you by cheerfully serving the people you work with and by striving to carry out your job as perfectly as you can, showing understanding, smiling, having a Christian approach to life. And do everything for God, thinking of his glory, with your sights set high and longing for the definitive homeland, because there is no other goal worthwhile.

If you’re not struggling, it’s no use telling me that you are really trying to become more closely identified with Christ, to know him and love him. When we set out seriously along the royal highway, that of following Christ and behaving as children of God, we soon realise what awaits us: the Holy Cross. We must see it as the central point upon which to rest our hope of being united with Our Lord.

Let me warn you that the programme ahead is not an easy one. It takes an effort to lead the kind of life Our Lord wants. Listen to the account St Paul gives of the incidents and sufferings he encountered in carrying out the will of Jesus: ‘Five times the Jews scourged me, and spared me but one lash in forty; three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned; I have been shipwrecked three times, I have spent a night and a day as a castaway at sea. What journeys I have undertaken, in danger from rivers, in danger from robbers, in danger from my own people, in danger from the gentiles; danger in cities, danger in the wilderness, danger in the sea, danger among false brethren! I have met with toil and weariness, so often been sleepless, hungry and thirsty; so often denied myself food, gone cold and naked. And all this, over and above something else which I do not count; I mean the burden I carry every day, my anxious care for all the churches.’

In these conversations we have with Our Lord, I like to keep very close to everyday reality and avoid dreaming up theories or imagining great hardships and heroic exploits, which seldom happen. What is important is to make good use of time, that time which is always slipping from our grasp and which to a Christian is more precious than gold, because it represents a foretaste of the glory that will be granted us hereafter.

Naturally, the difficulties we meet in our daily lives will not be as great or as numerous as St Paul encountered. We will, however, discover our own meanness and selfishness, the sting of sensuality, the useless, ridiculous smack of pride, and many other failings besides: so very many weaknesses. But are we to give in to discouragement? Not at all. Together with St Paul, let us tell Our Lord, ‘I am well content with these humiliations of mine, with the insults, the hardships, the persecutions, the times of difficulty I undergo for Christ; for when I am weakest, then I am strongest of all.’

Sometimes, when things turn out the very opposite of what we intended, we cry out spontaneously: ‘Lord, it’s all going wrong, every single thing I’m doing!’ The time has come for us to rectify our approach and say: ‘With you, Lord, I will make steady headway, because you are strength itself, quia tu es Deus fortitudo mea.’

I have asked you to keep on lifting your eyes up to Heaven as you go about your work, because hope encourages us to grasp hold of the strong hand which God never ceases to reach out to us, to keep us from losing our supernatural point of view. Let us persevere even when our passions rear up and attack us, attempting to imprison us within the narrow confines of our selfishness; or when puerile vanity makes us think we are the centre of the universe. I am convinced that unless I look upward, unless I have Jesus, I will never accomplish anything. And I know that the strength to conquer myself and to win comes from repeating that cry, ‘I can do all things in him who strengthens me,’ words which reflect God’s firm promise not to abandon his children if they do not abandon him.”

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