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Hope - Spe Salvi Encyclical

Hope is both the goal and the journey. Hope is the goal in the sense that it is the direction that we are walking to, it is the promise that we believe in, a most amazing and beautiful promise that someone who loves us is waiting for us and we know the face of that person, we know his name and we have placed all our trust in his hands; and hope is, at the very same time, the actual journey, it is the process that takes us to the goal, it is the manner in which we walk, our ability to advance one step at a time, exercised in proper prayer and tested in charitable action.

Wow! What a paradoxical and complex thing it is! It is both fragile and solid. We are not comparing apples to apples here, the goal and the journey are, by their very nature, two different things. But true and living hope is weaved into both. I just finished Pope Benedict XVI new encyclical letter "SPE SALVI" and I am extremely thankful for the encouragement that it brought me. I had been struggling with understanding what "hope" really means and by peeling away the various layers of the hope brought by salvation, his latest encyclical both explains what it is and reveals the program that it entails. Here are a few passages from "Spe salvi", the ones that I underlined right away:

Frosted leaves

Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope...
and this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.

Faith is the substance of hope. A wild plot of forest land is rendered fertile-and in the process, the trees of pride are felled, whatever weeds may be growing inside souls are pulled up, and the ground is thereby prepared so that bread for body and soul can flourish. 13 Are we not perhaps seeing once again, in the light of current history, that no positive world order can prosper where souls are overgrown? The present-day crisis of faith is essentially a crisis of Christian hope.

Reason is God's great gift to man, and the victory of reason over unreason is also a goal of the Christian life... every generation has the task of engaging anew in the arduous search for the right way to order human affairs;

Pray properly: When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well "But who can discern his errors? Clear me from hidden faults" prays the Psalmist (Ps 19:12 [18:13]).Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am guilty for the numbness of my conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is.

Frost in the morning All serious and honest human conduct is hope in action. Great progress has been made in the battle against physical pain; yet the sufferings of the innocent and mental suffering have, if anything, increased in recent decades.

With death, our life-choice becomes definitive-our life stands before the judge… and the judgement of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it is grace.

The true measure of humanity is essentially determined in relationship to suffering and to the sufferer.

I highly recommend this encyclical because it is crucial for us believers to be able to articulate the reason for our hope. For the ones among us who are privileged to have faith, this encyclical will re-enforce it and deepen it and give us many tools. For the ones among us who are not so sure, for the seekers among us (and I remember clearly how it feels), this encyclical will be both enlightening and challenging. Read it, read it alone and meditate it or read it as a group and share your reflections and learn from each other. Either way will be fruitful. Download it, print it and stuff it in the Christmas stockings of your loved ones!

Benedict XVI is a good teacher and he has this wonderful gift of taking abstract theological concepts and tough intellectual ideas and opening them up for today's listeners in a clear and accessible manner. In the process, he is guiding us to the heart of the matter, the love of Christ in his first encyclical and the hope of salvation in the second one. He takes our contemporary malaise (fueled by atheism and materialism, by modern arrogance) and redirects our gaze to the only solution, the one that is not found in our own navel (contrary to some voices) but above and beyond our own ego, in a transcendent love, in the love of God.

I used pictures of frost in nature to illustrate the fragility and fleeting quality of hope because frost is here in the morning and gone by noon. But the reality of hope is both delicate and extremely solid too so I should be using pictures of mountains! There are many types of hope and we all experience some of them to some degree (if not, then I don't see how you can get out of bed in the morning). But the deeper types of hope have to do with our worldview, with the big picture, and the most profound and durable and tested type of all is the one anchored in God - as was so movingly illustrated by Saint Joséphine Bakhita. Pope Benedict XVI calls the various types the lesser and greater hopes. He explains right upfront how faith and hope are intermingled, how they are resting on a proper understanding of what it is to be Christian, what is the promise of eternal life and what is the true fabric of this life, this abundant life that Christ opened up for us. He cautions us against the modern temptations of individual salvation, of a political or scientific solution where we save ourselves by our own efforts, he develops to great lengths the need for every generation to work for the kingdom here and now as we should be very much aware of the inner limitations of our own efforts. Pope Benedict points out the errors and limitations of the French Revolution, of Karl Marx and his friends, of the false promises of a better world without God.

I truly loved §30, 31, 32 and 37 and I could quote them in full! But no, I'll stop here and I will pray that you read the whole encyclical. And I will wait, with patient and joyful hope, for encyclical number three…

Spe Salvi
see English text here
see French text, en français ici

Copyright ©December2007 Michele Szekely



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