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What is hope?

Anna Krestyn - published on 02/26/13 - updated on 06/07/17

By hope our heart longs for the goal of eternal life with God, knowing it is attainable by grace

A person does not hope for something he or she believes is impossible to attain, however difficult it may be to attain it. Hope is closely related, then, to belief, or faith. Pope Benedict XVI, in his encyclical on hope (Spe Salvi), states that “the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.”

Christian hope is the theological virtue that makes the heart long for the goal of eternal life with God and pushes us toward it, believing that this goal can be reached not by trusting in ourselves or others, but in the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Hope “responds to the aspiration 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 beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1818).

Christian hope has its origin and model in the hope of Abraham, who was purified by the test of sacrificing his son Isaac, and blessed abundantly for his faithfulness. “Hoping against hope, he believed, and thus became the father of many nations” (Romans 4:18).

The sacrifice of Jesus makes it possible for us to remain in “hope that does not disappoint” (Romans 5:5). It connects us to this sacrifice and all that it won for us.

Our hope is expressed and sustained through prayer, especially in the Our Father, “the summary of everything that hope leads us to desire” (CCC 1820). Jesus urged us to pray in order to receive what we hope for from God. He taught us in the Our Father to pray for the essentials needed for Christian living, but moreover, to pray for them in hope. Pope Benedict calls prayer “a first essential setting for learning hope.” In SpeSalvi, the pope uses the moving story of the late Vietnamese Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan to make his point. Cardinal Van Thuan was imprisoned by civil authorities for twelve years, nine of which were in solitary confinement. During that time, he smuggled messages to his persecuted people on bits of paper, made a Bible from scraps, and kept a prayer journal. His prison writings were published after his release. The Pope writes, “In a situation of utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope.”

So we can hope through Jesus Christ for the joy of heaven promised by God to those who love him and do his will. Each of us should hope, in every circumstance and with God’s grace, to reach that greatest goal.

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