Advent and the True Nature 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.” (CCC 1817)

Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, “The Annunciation to the Shepherds,” 1760
Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich, “The Annunciation to the Shepherds,” 1760 (photo: Public Domain)

All is not well with the world and the whole creation groans in agony. Disease, immorality, murder, despair, pollution, prejudice, hatred, division, laziness, poverty, tyranny, confusion, greed, depression — and the list goes on.

What is the way out? What is God going to do? What is the solution to such a myriad of problems? What revolution is in store? 

I have no idea.

So what do we do?

Hope.

But there is no hope.

True.

And what did God do in response to that situation 2,000 years ago? He sent a baby who would grow up to be wrongly accused and killed as a criminal.

That makes no sense at all, and there is not even a shred of hope in a story like that in the eyes of the world.

But God does not see with the eyes of the world, and in Heaven’s economy, that story is where every true Hope finds its source and home.

  We have a habit of saying, in dire situations, when no solution is in view or seems possible, that there is no hope. In situations where a faint glimmer of a solution is possible or things turn the corner and start going our way, we say that there is finally some hope. I have used hope in this sense before in reference to the hope I saw for fatherhood and anti-abortion in an urban school because of an experience I had with a student and his tattoo. According to this common usage, hope depends on whether or not we see a way out. We use this sense, in particular, when it comes to good causes, comfort, health, and earthly victory. This is a valid and common way of identifying a certain kind of hope, but it is not the deepest kind of hope. 

True Hope, the Christian theological virtue of Hope, is only really exercised when there doesn’t seem to be any hope at all. When all seems completely lost and there is no earthly reason to expect any kind of a solution, that is the time for Hope because our Hope extends beyond the world to the one thing that ultimately matters in the end: salvation.

G.K. Chesterton wrote, “As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is a mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all.  Like all other Christian virtues, it is as unreasonable as it is indispensable.” If it is a hope that is seen, then it is no true Hope (Romans 8:24-25).

Hope like this is complete foolishness unless the object of our Hope, God, is real and the Christian story is true. A virtue is a habit directed towards the good, but hope in a false reality or an illusion of one’s own making is not a good at all. The same is true of faith and charity, the other two theological virtues. They are virtues only in light of true theology. The knowledge of that truth and the reliance on revelation is faith, which gives rise to hope and love. 

Another moment of Hope in a hopeless situation is Holy Saturday. Everything was lost by all human accounts, but by heavenly accounts the greatest event in human history was on the horizon. The human spirit has known no greater darkness, and no darkness has ever been followed by a greater light.

I don’t think it is going too far to say that our world is in an Advent and Holy Saturday kind of time. Our lights show us no cause for hope, and so our Hope can grow even stronger. This is the age of true Christians, true virtue, and true Hope. It does no good to sit on the sidelines, criticize, complain, and whine. What we have to do now is what we have always had to do: fast, pray, serve, love, worship, Hope, and do it all joyfully. 

Are times difficult? Does there seem to be no hope? Bring it on! Our Hope reaches beyond all times.

Duccio’s ‘Pentecost’ (1308)

Pray the Pentecost Novena

The prayer recalls and invites Catholics to participate in the nine days that the Blessed Virgin Mary and the apostles spent in prayer after Christ ascended into heaven.