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The theology and practice of Hope

floating red flower
Floating red flower at a wedding


I had a very simple and basic understanding of the virtue of Hope which felt "incomplete" so I thought I would throw my net over the side of the boat and see what I bring back and, in the process, I expected it to deepen my grasp of what Hope truly is and why God wants us to exercise it… And it did! I got much more than I initially thought since it changed my world vision, slowly but constantly, nudging me here and there. But here is my story and my sources.

The "Dictionary of the Bible" by John McKenzie

In it I found the following comments: "It seems no exaggeration to say the Old Testament breathes an atmosphere of hope throughout but it is true that Hebrew seems to have no word which corresponds exactly to "hope" and no precise concept of hope in the sense of "desire accompanied by expectation". The words which most frequently express hope are kawah, to expect, and batah, to trust or to have confidence. As a religious concept, hope rests entirely upon Yahweh, the "hope of Israel". One must hope in Yahweh even when He "hides his face" Is 8:17; or seems to withdraw his favor, or when hope is deferred, Is 26:8. … His fidelity to His word is guaranteed by His covenant love, which is granted to the degree in which Israel hopes in Him…

The New Testament

In it, the Greek words elpis and elpizein, meaning expectation or to expect, are neutral, it may refer to expected good or evil… the words appear in this sense in the New Testament but hope as a religious concept is a much more enriched development of the OT hope. The concept of hope is most fully developed in the Pauline writings especially in Roman. The paradox of "hoped against expectation" is that God can accomplish the impossible. Hope is of the unseen both to its object and its motive. Rom 8:24 and Heb 3:6. It is the hope of the glory of God which is the boast of the Christian, Rom 5:2, which must ultimately issue in the liberation of all creation from sin, Rom 8:20. Thus the Christian is saved through hope, which is joy. Paul does not think that hope is easily attained, it is the fruit of proved virtue…."

The Catechism of the Catholic Church

The CCC says in §1817 that 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. The virtue of hope responds to the aspirations to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitudes. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.

My onwn (amazed and grateful) conclusion

Hope is part perception and part imagination on a first layer, but also in other parts, it is resting on our emotions of the moment and our capacity to use reason at that precise instant, and finally it is a product of our own will and courage and the virtues of patience and trust and faith. Each one of these facets of Hope can be improved by exercising it, wanting it and praying for it. How do we perceive this world and the next world? Think about it, ponder it, learn from others...
For believers, Hope is considered a virtue. It is in us, it resides in our heart and mind and soul. And, just like a muscle, it is strengthened as it is exercised. But it is much more than that... It also exists outside of us, independant of us, which is lucky for us! If not, it would mean that when we are weak and lost, when we can't feel and think "hope", then it would not be there. On the contrary, it is exactly in these moments of human weakness, when we call out of despair but when we leave ourselves open to the grace and mercy of God, that we encounter hope. Then we know that it came to us, we did not make it up, and we found our hearts melting away in gratefulness; we realize then that hope is a force carried on the wings of angels, hope is a light brought to us as a gift.

It is real. It is true. It is universal.
Just like love, just like faith...
Pretty explicit description of such elusive stuff, right?
As far as I am concerned, I already got lots of food for thought. I think I get it, I just need to practice it more. A bientot!

2007-2022 Michele Szekely

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