Hope, by Father Richard Frederick Clarke, SJ

detail of a stained glass window depicting an anchor, an emblem of hope; date and artist unknown; Saint Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, Mount Vernon, Ohio; photographed on 2 April 2016 by Nheyob; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsWhat is Hope?

Hope in general is a desire for some future good, difficult of attainment, but nevertheless within our reach, joined to a certain confidence that we shall attain to it. It sets aside empty fears and a dread of failure, and encourages us to fresh efforts. It is a disposition of mind that we should do all we can to foster in ourselves and others. Success in life depends in a great measure on the maintenance of a well-assured hope. He who loses hope will not succeed; he who continues to hope cannot fail at last.

The theological virtue of hope is a form of confidence that God will give us eternal life and also the means necessary to the obtaining of it. It includes also a strong desire for heaven and a determination to do all that is required on our part not to fail of our eternal reward. A weak desire or comparative indifference will never kindle the virtue of hope, since it will not produce in us the self sacrifice necessary for success. Do I find in myself the characteristics of hope? Are they such as to overcome with God’s help all the obstacles in my way?

The chief element in hope is confidence in God, not in ourselves. This it is which excludes the possibility of despair on the one hand, and on the other, makes presumption impossible. Just in proportion to our confidence in God will be the strength of our hope. My God, give me more confidence in Thee, and then I may hope for great things; great graces, great virtues, and a great reward in heaven.

The Value of Hope

Hope is no less necessary for justification than faith. Faith is a preliminary condition; hope is a distinct step in the direction of heaven. When once we desire the friendship of God, and believe that He is ready to help us if we do our part, half the battle is gained. We are already on the road to charity. Peace and happiness are within sight, even though the way may be long, and the journey a painful one before we reach heaven. If I can say in my heart that I hope to die in God’s friendship and love, I ought to take courage and go on peace fully and cheerfully.

Hope is a certain means of overcoming all the difficulties and temptations of our earthly pilgrimage. It is like a cordial that always keeps us up and gives us a good heart when our spirits are inclined to sink. If my hopes are fixed on heaven, and I have a firm confidence that God will bring me safely thither in the end, all the trials and vexations of life are but of small account. Painful they may be, but somehow the pain becomes comparatively light when I turn my hopeful glance to heaven.

Hope is one of the marks of holiness. The saints never lost hope when all seemed to go wrong, when failure followed upon failure, and disappointment upon disappointment. Present failure made them practice all the more this virtue of hope, and the result was that God rewarded them even in this life for their confidence in Him by unexpected victories, and by a peace and joy that seemed to defy all the attempts of their enemies to disturb it. I too must hope on manfully, and in the end I am sure to conquer.

The Motives of Hope

The primary motive of hope is the love that God bears me, and His fidelity to all His promises. He cannot refrain His love from the work of His Own hands. He has loved me from the first moment of my being. The fondest love of a father or mother to a darling child is as nothing to the love of God for me. He has watched over me with tenderest love all my life long. He is most anxious for my welfare, He longs for my love. He is also all-powerful, and He can give me and will give me all I need if I ask of Him. What is there then that I may not hope for from Him?

The second motive of hope is the Life, Passion, and Death of my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. He came down from heaven for me; He lived on earth for me; He suffered for me; He died upon the Cross for me, and for me He still prays in heaven, and holds out His wounded hands to His Eternal Father interceding for me. He claims me as one of those whom He has bought with His Precious Blood. “Father, I will that where I am they also whom Thou hast given Me may be with Me.” (John 17:24) He will never forsake me until He has brought me safe to His Eternal Kingdom.

The third motive of hope is the love of Mary, the Mother of God and my Mother, for I rejoice in calling myself a child and a client of Mary. I was entrusted to her by Jesus upon the Cross: she loves me for His sake with a love far greater than that of any earthly mother. She is always ready to help and comfort me. I know that if I hope in her, I shall not be confounded for ever.

Further Motives of Hope

It is not merely the goodness and love of God that should furnish us with a continual spring of hope, but the goodness and love that we ourselves have personally experienced from Him. How good God has been to me! When I look back upon my past life, I find a thousand practical proofs of His love. It would be mean and ungrateful not to acknowledge them. Now if He has been so good to me in the past, I have every reason to expect that He will continue the same to me in the future, Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and for evermore. Why should I fear with such guarantees of His abiding love?

Besides this, the very sense of my own nothingness and worthlessness ought to give me fresh hope. If God has, with such materials to work upon, produced one who at least desires to be faithful to Him and pleasing in His sight, I have strong ground for confidence that He will continue His work of mercy. He means to perfect the work already done in me. The wonders that He has wrought hitherto will assuredly go on as long as life shall last.

What, moreover, is God’s object in all the trouble that He has taken with me? It is to secure my presence in heaven. It is wonderful, but nevertheless it is certain that He intends that even I shall be an ornament of the celestial courts. If I suffer now, the painful process is but the necessary polishing which is to make the shapeless bit of stone into an object beautiful in the sight of the angels. In God therefore I will hope, now and always.

The Objects of Hope

What is it that we must hope for if we are to derive from our hope comfort and peace amid all troubles and temptations? It will never do to fix our glance on any earthly good, for such may at any moment disappoint us; nor even on the consolations of religion, for it may be God’s will that we should lack consolation all our life through. It is above and beyond this world and our time of sojourn here that we must fix our hope. We must look to the land in which we shall see the King in His beauty, and shall repose for ever in the bosom of God.

Yet if we are not to rest on any consolations of earth, yet we know that if we conform our will to God’s, and accept with patience and willingness all that He sends us, however painful, we shall gradually attain even here a solid peace which is one of God’s best gifts to His children on earth. “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you,” said our Lord to His Apostles before leaving them. This peace is within the reach of all; we ought to strive for it and hope soon to reach it. Do I do so?

We are also to hope and firmly believe that God will give us all the graces necessary for over coming our faults and attaining such a degree of virtue and holiness as He designs for us. One of the chief causes of our failures is that we lose hope. We think it is no use trying to overcome some inveterate fault. This is a great mistake: God may be on the very point of giving us the grace, and that when we least expect it. We must go on hoping. To hope is half the battle. It will give us courage, and enable us to persevere amid difficulties, and will give us the victory in the end.

Dangers to Hope

There is nothing that so cuts away the ground of our hope as deliberate and willful sin against Almighty God. If we make Him our enemy, what possible source of hope remains to us? Ourselves? We know well enough in our hearts that to lean on self is trusting to a broken reed. Our worldly pos sessions? What comfort do they afford us? They are rather a fresh cause of weary dissatisfaction. Our friends and relations? They cannot really help us in the hour of our need. Without the friendship of God there is nothing to look forward to but the blackness of misery.

There is one form of disobedience to God that is more subversive of hope than any other, viz., self-will and a refusal to listen to God’s inspirations and to set aside our will for His. Sins of weakness make us hate and despise ourselves, but sins of pride (and what is self-will but a form of pride?) make us feel a positive aversion from Him Who is the front of all hope and the God of consolation. A proud man cannot hope for reconciliation with God, because he will not ask for it, so he remains shut out from all chance of hope as long as he persists in his pride.

Self-confidence will sometimes supply up to a certain point the place of hope and confidence in God, just as self-respect will supply the place of virtue. But it will fail us in the hour of our need. It is but a hollow and treacherous support. In time of success and prosperity it will serve us well enough, but in adversity and trouble, in the hour of death, in the Day of Judgment, it will avail us nothing. Do I trust in self or in God?

The Loss of Hope

To lose hope is of all miseries the greatest, except to lose our faith. The conscious suffering of one who still retains his faith is perhaps greater than that of a man who has lost both faith and hope, but he is far more miserable in the sight of God because he has lost that which alone can supply motives for hope. As long as a man keeps his faith, his very suffering and anguish of mind may, through God’s grace, lead to the recovery of hope. But if faith is gone, hope becomes impossible, Thank God that you still have the faith, and if your hope is faint and feeble, you can at least pray to God, who promises that He will not reject any who ask in faith, that He may revive in you the consolations of hope.

A man who has the faith but has lost hope is indeed an object of our pity. Cain lost hope when he cried out, “My sin is greater than that I should deserve pardon.” Judas lost hope when he saw his Master condemned through his treachery. He could not endure the misery of hopelessness, and went and hanged himself. Those who destroy the life that God has given them are almost always those who through their own fault have lost hope. Pray God that even if charity fades away at least you may retain the precious gift of hope.

It is the loss of hope that makes hell what it is. It is not the burning flame nor even the mere fact of the absence of God that is the chief torment of Hell, since these two are among the sufferings of Purgatory. It is the loss of all hope, and the knowledge that God is lost for ever; that there is no break in the gloom, no gleam of sunshine in the future, nothing but the blackness of darkness to all eternity. O my God! save me from the utter misery of thus losing for ever all hope.

The Diminution of Hope

How is it that we find many who, in their younger days are full of hope and courage, fall away gradually as life goes on from their early promise? Is it that advancing years tend of them selves to make us less hopeful? Or is it the necessary result of painful experience? No, it is not the one or the other; it is in great measure our own fault. It is because we have not advanced in virtue with our advancing years; it is because we have not been faithful to grace; it is because we have been selfish and indolent, and have followed our own inclinations instead of the Divine leading. All this has made the distant light that shone upon our path grow dim and faint.

Especially our hope has been dulled by our habit of doing our actions from natural motives instead of from the love of God. Natural impulse has been for the most part the moving power in our life, natural benevolence, activity, zeal, likes and dislikes. Our conversation has not been in heaven but on earth. Our affections have been set rather on things of earth than on heavenly things. This is why we have been disappointed and felt our disappointment keenly, and have been discouraged and lost hope. If we had been working for God alone we should have hoped on in spite of apparent failures.

We have also dimmed our hope by a habit of finding fault and grumbling. There is nothing like this for making us discontented. We create miseries for ourselves and make all things look black by our gloomy way of looking at them. He who looks at the right side will find that all becomes brighter and brighter to the perfect day.

Hope and Fear

Can hope and fear dwell in the same breast? Yes, certainly, if the fear be the fear of God that is the beginning of wisdom. In fact, hope is impossible without that salutary filial fear which fills us with a dread of Offending God. This fear is a reverential, not a servile fear; a fear of love, not of gloomy terror and dismay. We rejoice with trembling, but the trembling does not destroy the joy. All the saints had the fear of God strong within them, and the most intense charity does not drive out fear, except in heaven where it is perfected.

We may go further and say that hope cannot abide constantly in our hearts unless fear be present also. Hope and fear go on hand in hand. “Dost thou not fear God?” said the penitent thief to his blaspheming companion; and as he spoke the words, hope leaped up in his breast, and he turned to Him Who is the fount and source of all hope, and was forgiven and received the promise of a Paradise near at hand. “Fear God, dear Abner, and thou shalt know no other fear,” said the French poet; for then all other fear is changed to hope.

The fear of earthly miseries and of the punishment of our sins need not interfere with our hope. We may dread the approaching suffering, bodily or mental, but at the same time time we may have a firm hope that God will bring us safely through. The fear is of the passing present; the hope of the happy and eternal future, and the hope enables us to overcome the fear and to say I can suffer all things through God’s grace and with His help. Why then should the shrinking of human nature from the pain interfere with the brightness of our hope?

Hope and Charity

If hope and fear go hand in hand, much more do hope and charity. Hope must always contain at least an initial charity. We cannot hope in the mercy of God unless we have at least some sort of love for Him. Hope reminds us of the mercy and goodness of God, and of His readiness to forgive. It turns our thoughts to heaven, and gives us a firm confidence that if we do our part, He will not shut the door of heaven on us, or thrust us away because of our past sins. It does more than this, it sets before us God’s tender love for us, and it leads us on to love Him in return, and to say, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

But if hope is to be the stepping-stone to perfect charity, it must not dwell merely on what benefits we may look to obtain from God, it must put before us a higher object. It must point us to the happiness of loving God for His Own sake, apart from any advantage to ourselves, except that which is derived from the mere happiness of loving so good a God. Self must gradually disappear, and hope must be fixed in the thought of God and of His Divine perfection, and of the eternal joy of being like to Him when we shall see Him as He is. Is my hope of this unselfish nature which makes it almost identical with charity?

In this vale of tears, hope and charity are inseparable. Our greatest happiness consisted of a foretaste of heaven, and what is a foretaste save a hope of still greater joys to come? The most ecstatic delights known to the saints were but a form of hope. Their perfect charity carried with it an ever-present hope of seeing God face to face, and of being united to Him in the supreme joy of the Beatific Vision. Have I a love that ever keeps alive and strong within me the virtue of hope?

The Patterns of Hope

Was the virtue of hope possible to Jesus Christ? Not in its proper sense, for the primary object of the virtue of hope is the possession of God. Nevertheless, as Man He hoped in God (Psalm 21:1), and with a hope which is the perfect example which we should seek to imitate. No one ever had the perfect confidence in God that He had, and therefore no one ever possessed so firm or so intense a hope as He. Help me, O Lord, to have a perfect confidence in Thee, a keen desire after Thee, for then my hope can not fail.

What was the object of Jesus’ hope? It was the glory of His Sacred Humanity. His Human Nature made like to ours. He took upon Him our sinful nature, sin only excepted. On earth His Sacred Humanity was in a state of exile, in a condition of servitude, waiting to be freed from the bondage of corruption and to be brought into the full liberty of the Eternal Son of God. So we should long for heaven, and strengthen our hope by the thought of coming bliss.

What was the glory and happiness after which His Sacred Humanity longed? It was no personal glory or splendor such as men long for on earth. It was an unselfish happiness, the happiness of making others happy; the glory of seeing around Him those whom He had redeemed from sin and death by all that He suffered in His Sacred Humanity. It was on this that His hopes were fixed; this was the joy of heaven to His Human Nature. Shall we in Heaven share His joy? Have we cause for hoping that we shall be surrounded by those whom our prayers or good example or labors have brought back from sin?

Examples of Hope

All the saints of God were full of hope as they were of faith and charity, but in some hope shines with especial brilliancy because of their surrounding difficulties.

Holy Job never ceased to hope even when everything seemed against him, and even his friends reproached him, and urged upon him that his sufferings were the due punishment of his sins. Amid all he said: “I know that my Redeemer lives.” If we are patient like him we shall have a hope like his amid sorrow and trouble, and we may look forward to a recompense far greater than any present misery. If we are inclined to despondency, we shall do well to repeat these words again and again: “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

Daniel and the three young men in Babylon were another splendid instance of hope. When ordered to eat the meat offered to idols, they chose instead to live on pulse and water, knowing they could safely commit their welfare to God. When commanded to fall down before the golden statue, and threatened with the fiery furnace, their hope failed them not. “Our God Whom we worship is able to save us.” Daniel when forbidden to pray to God took no notice of the command or the threat of exposure to the lions, knowing that God would shut the lions’ mouths. Pray for similar courage grounded on hope like theirs.

The Christians praying for the deliverance of Saint Peter from prison were a most instructive instance of hope. He was in prison, bound to four soldiers, to be executed on the following day. Yet they hoped on, even when all seemed hopeless, and prayed when it appeared useless to pray: God did not disappoint them, but set Saint Peter free by the ministry of an angel.

Further Examples of Hope

Hope has this peculiar to itself, that we find instances of hope even among those whose charity was still imperfect, and in whom grace was only beginning to do her work.

Saint Mary Magdalen on her way to the house of the Pharisee where Christ was invited to dine, was full of hope. In spite of her past sins, of her habit of luxury, of her consciousness of long estrangement from God, she hoped and believed that at the feet of the Prophet of Nazareth she would find forgiveness and peace. Nor was her hope disappointed; she found all she hoped for, and much more than all. If she could thus hope, why should I lose hope? I may have many sins upon my soul, but this is the very reason why I should hope that, like hers, they may be all forgiven.

The good thief hanging on the cross, in spite of his own suffering and the approach of an agonizing death, hoped. He looked forward to the future, and instead of finding there cause for despair, he hoped and felt certain that the Son of God would remember him. His hope failed him not; that very day he was received into Paradise. What an encouragement this ought to be to me! Jesus will not forget even me if I humbly beg Him to remember me.

Saint Augustine, even before his conversion, never lost hope. Amid the entangling meshes of sin, he looked forward to the day of deliverance. He thirsted after God, and found nought else would satisfy him, and never lost sight of the goal even when his steps wandered. Grace was drawing him to God as it is drawing me, if only I will do my part. What reason then I have to hope! Help me, O God, to hope always, and even when all seems dark and gloomy!

The Happiness of Hope

There are two kinds of happiness: the happiness of present enjoyment and the happiness of hope. The one reposes in the present; makes the most of it; sucks out of it all the enjoyment possible and banishes all thought of the future. This is the happiness that is to come entirely within reach of all, even the worst. It is a low kind of happiness, essentially of the earth, earthy, but still some seem to be satisfied with it. There are many men and women selfish, proud, impure, disobedient to conscience, and the enemies of God who are apparently quite content with the happiness of present enjoyment.

The happiness of hope, on the other hand, does not derive its consolations from the present, but from the future. It is ready to forego the immediate satisfaction of the moment, for the sake of a far higher and nobler satisfaction hereafter. It takes a sort of strange pleasure in present sorrows, if out of them it sees that joy will afterwards result. This is the happiness that alone deserves the name in this present life. This is the happiness of the saints and of all who fear God.

This latter happiness is only possible if our affections are set on the things of heaven, not on those of earth. On this all depends. Without it we never can have the happiness of hope, for it is only in heaven that we can hope for happiness when life is over. Where our treasure is, there will our heart be also, and our happiness even here will be assured by our firm conviction that our desires and longings will be fulfilled. Which is the happiness at which I am aiming?

Hope in Purgatory

Saint Augustine tells us that the fire of Purgatory is of the same nature as the fire of Hell, and consequently the sufferings of the Holy Souls in Purgatory do not differ in kind to those of the lost. Yet those who are paying the penalty of sins, repented of, but not fully expiated, are supremely happy amid their Sufferings, while those who are undergoing the punishment of unrepented sin are supremely miserable. God grant that I may not depart with any serious sin still unrepented of, for this will be to die without hope and with the prospect of the flames of hell forever.

The chief agony Of hell is the absence of hope. To all eternity their anguish will continue the same. The gnawing worm of remorse will gnaw forever; the torturing flames will never lose their power to torment. But in Purgatory, instead of hopelessness and despair, there is a hope and confidence in God, surpassing altogether the hope and confidence even of the saints on earth. There is the absolute certainty of eternal happiness; a bright light in the distance lighting up the gloom of their prison house.

The Holy Souls in Purgatory are thus happier than any, save the redeemed in heaven. They have not the happiness of present enjoyment, on the contrary, they are plunged in sadness and suffering unspeakable. But all through those weary years they are consoled by the thought of the future joy, and the time of waiting seems unspeakably long and tedious. Yet they are supported by the happiness of hope; and while they cry, “How long, O Lord, how long?” they know that they are on the border-land of heaven, and that nothing can hinder them from entering in.

The Consummation of Hope

Hope is necessarily something imperfect. It implies that we lack something that we desire, and that we are not able to attain it. It only exists in virtue of expected blessings which are at present out of our reach. It is therefore the virtue of a state of transition, not of a permanent condition. It is unsatisfactory in itself, its value is only on account of something beyond and outside of itself to which it points. It is a virtue suitable for the earth or Purgatory, not for heaven.

But will hope never be perfected? It will be consummated, not perfected. Its consummation will consist in the step from the anticipation of a perfect joy to the full possession of the joy to which we have looked forward. Such a fulfillment of hope falls to the lot of the dying saint who knows that he will enter at once into the joy of his Lord; and the happy soul to whom its Angel Guardian has announced that the moment of its release draws nigh.

There will be hope even in heaven until the final Judgment shall arrive, for the souls of the redeemed do not attain the perfection of their reward until their bodies share their triumph. Amid their present joy in heaven they have still fresh joy to look forward to, when they will be united to their glorified bodies, and with them will reign forever in the presence of God. After this their happiness will be complete, and they will have nothing further to desire or hope for. May God grant to me this happy consummation of my hope, and my longing after Him!