Hope. At the beginning of each new semester there is always a sense of hope. In his opening prayer to begin this semester Principal Dr. Anthony Fior ‘02 quoted from the Urbi et Orbi - “to the Church and to the World” - Christmas message of Pope Francis. “Dear brothers and sisters, amid all the many problems of our time, hope prevails, for to us a child is born (Isaiah 9:6).” Despite all of the difficulties facing the world today and all of the despair felt by so many in the Church and in the World, Francis focuses his thoughts on hope.
Our hope as Christians has never been in the powers of this world, whether they be political, military, economic, educational, medical, or technological. What distinguishes Christians from others is the realization that the ways of this world can never deliver on that one thing that we humans, by our very nature, hope for: eternal life.
Sadly, amidst this all-consuming pandemic, not only have millions lost their lives, their jobs, their health, and their families and friends, but they have been brought to despair and have lost any sense of hope. In this tragic state of affairs Christians have fared no better than those who have no Savior to whom they can bind themselves. Pope Francis speaks of this in his Christmas message when he implores his listeners to “in the heart of the night, look! The sign of hope! Today, the Love that moves the sun and the other stars (Dante, Paradiso, Canto 33, line 145) became flesh.”
Here the Holy Father has latched onto the heart of the matter: the substantial difference between the theological virtue of hope and the common, everyday feeling of hope. Hope in the ordinary sense is simply wishful thinking: I hope that my next COVID-19 test is negative. Hope, as a theological virtue, is quite different, and is directly related to the Incarnation of God in the Person of Jesus Christ. Our hope (theologically speaking) is in Him, and therefore our hope is not wishful thinking, but an immutable assurance of eternal life.
Might my next COVID-19 test be positive? Might I get a lot sicker than I did when I last tested positive? Might that be the way that I leave this world? All three of those may come to be answered in the affirmative. I hope they are not, and yet, if they are all answered with a “yes” there is no need to lose hope, for as followers of Christ our hope is in Him and the eternal life that He promises.
St. Ignatius of Loyola, in his Spiritual Exercises, wrote that we “should not necessarily want health rather than sickness, …. a long rather than a short life.” Why did this great spiritual guide appear to approach life in such a cavalier fashion? The only explanation is that Ignatius was a man of deep and abiding hope. He put his hope in the same Person who the Jesuit Francis calls us to see as our only hope. Ignatius, and those who live by the guidance of the Spiritual Exercises, put their trust in the One Who knows whether health or sickness, a long or a short life, is best suited for the bringing about of our eternal salvation.
So, as Christians, we live in hope. We hope that those who are healthy do not become ill; we hope that those who are ill can be cured; we hope that medical science will rid us of such plagues; but most of all we hope in the Lord of the Universe. For in the end, when it ultimately matters, hope in Christ is that which will save us and lead us to the eternal life to which we all are drawn and for which we all were made.