There is perhaps a no more important nor consoling reflection for us than to focus on the gift of hope. After all, everyone of us enters each new year with hope for a brighter future. But if our expectation of hope offers only some future fulfillment, that would be disappointing indeed, and not the same hope promised to us by Jesus Christ.
“…and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5)
This pouring out of love into our hearts is the entire reason for human existence. We were not only made in the image of God, ultimately, we were made to be transformed into His Glory.
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (1 Colossians 3:18)
Before we launch into a consideration of the “Anatomy of Hope,” it is important to understand the definition of the word anatomy as it is being used here. Most of us are familiar with the use of the word anatomy as it relates to the human body, but there is an alternative, albeit similar definition which reads: A study of the structure or internal workings of something.
This definition uses the term structurebecause a true understanding of hope requires us to understand both the structure and the pieces that build the structure.
The first point to emphasize about the term hope is that it is both a virtue, i.e., something we practice, and also a gift, something we receive. Our possession of hope is promised in Scripture.
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
The clear counsel here is that we must immerse ourselves daily in Scripture if we wish to take daily possession of the promise of hope. For it would be impossible to “have hope” if we did not avail ourselves of the written instructions on the gift of hope provided to us in Scripture.
Now, as it relates to our understanding of hope, we will often learn a great deal more from the occasional struggles with, and perhaps even temporary absence of, hope in our lives. This is a terrible condition, usually experienced as fear and worry about our future. Has anyone ever had this experience?
In these often-difficult occasions, we can learn a great deal about our need for God. However, if we wish to bring an end to our anxiety, we need only turn to one of the most compelling Scriptural promises of the gift of hope, found in the Book of Jeremiah.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
The simple truth is that all our consolation in the spiritual life, whether it comes through meditating on scripture or engaging in prayer, is found not so much in faith, but rather in the active practice of hope. But consolation, to be of comfort, must be something we experience now, in this time, and this is where all our confusion about the “structure” of hope begins.
You see, many people, even those with great faith, see the active practice of hope as a constant state of waiting and anticipation; they view hope as living in the continual practice of perpetual patience. For too many souls, Hope’s identification with the future leads to the belief that it is exclusively oriented toward what is ahead of them, what they will only experience at some point down the road. But this misinterpretation of the gift of hope can rob souls of the real benefits to be experienced in its practice.
Here is another, perhaps more beneficial, way of looking at the virtue of 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.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶1817)
In this definition we get closer to a clear understanding of the gift of hope. We see that hope is not merely a state of waiting. Rather, it is also a state of desire, and desire is an active state of being, it is something we experience in the moment and it has positive connotations.
But it might be argued that desire is also oriented toward the future, for who desires or hopes for what they already possess? This is true, but the final piece to understanding the immediate benefits of the gift of hope is found in this very term desire.
The significance of the term desire, as it relates to hope, is not about the orientation of the timeframe, whether it is now or some time in the future. Instead, the reorientation brought about by the gift of Hope is ultimately about what we actually desire in this life. The practice of hope calls for a reorientation of our current desires (those things that we think we want most today) toward what we have already been promised by God, His promise of eternal life.
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23)
Hope is diminished not by the absence of God’s promise, for He will never go back on His promise. Rather, hope is diminished when we fail to receive what it is that we ourselves may be more oriented toward in this life. Instead, God wants us to be focused on life with Him, for all eternity. He desires that all our actions, words and deeds might be directed toward Him and Him alone. He is not so much interested in what we do, but in the desire behind what we do.
“He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7)
If everything in our life is not oriented toward the fulfillment of our ultimate purpose, i.e., transformation into the Glory of God, then what is really behind our greatest desires? Everything in our lives should be filled with the desire to fulfill and take full possession of God’s promise. When this is not the case, and we fail to get what we want, we begin to lose hope.
For each of our individual desires, whether they be for finances, healing, relationships, or whatever holds our attention, we must ask ourselves, “Why do I want this?” If the answer is not that it will better allow us to fulfill God’s will, then we might wish to rethink our desires.
If we want to reorient our desires, then our practice of the virtue of hope must be exclusively centered on God and His promise. The only way to do this is to persistently ask God in our prayers to use the raw material of our daily life, and the structure of hope, to form us into the image of glory He has destined for us. And yes, we must also ask for the grace of patience to, at times, endure the struggles life sends our way. But, above all, we must actively rejoice in the gift of hope God lavishly showers upon us when we seek to take possession of His promise.
“Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)
Copyright © 2019 by Mark Danis
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