The virtue of hope and what it really meansBy Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap.
asep. 16, 2010 (www.archden.org
) - “Hope” may be the only word in the English language more badly misused than “love.” For Christians, hope is a virtue, not an emotional crutch or a political slogan. Virtus, the Latin root of virtue, means strength or courage. Real hope is unsentimental. It has nothing to do with the shallow optimism of self-improvement programs or election campaigns. Hope assumes and demands a real, unbending spine in believers.
Seventy years ago the great French writer Georges Bernanos published a little essay called “Sermon of an Agnostic on the Feast of St. Théresè.” Bernanos had a deep distrust of politics, both left and right, and an equally deep love of the Catholic Church. He also had a piercing sense of irony about the comfortable, the self-satisfied and the lukewarm who postured themselves as Catholic—whether they were laypeople or clergy.
In his essay he imagined “what any decent agnostic of average intelligence might say, if by some impossible chance the [pastor] were to let him stand awhile in the pulpit [on] the day consecrated to St. Théresè of Lisieux.”
“Dear brothers,” says the agnostic from the pulpit, “many unbelievers are not as hardened as you imagine . . . [But when] we seek [Christ] now, in this world, it is you we find, and only you . . . It is you Christians who participate in divinity, as your liturgy proclaims; it is you ‘divine men’ who ever since [Christ’s] ascension have been his representatives on earth. . . . You are the salt of the earth. [So if] the world loses its flavor, who is it I should blame? . . . The New Testament is eternally young. It is you who are so old . . . [and so] because you do not live your faith, your faith has ceased to be a living thing.”
Bernanos had little use for the learned, the proud or the superficially religious. He believed instead in the little flowers—the Thérèses of Lisieux—that sustain the Church and convert the world by the purity, simplicity, innocence and zeal of their faith. That kind of faith is a gift. But it’s a gift each of us can ask for, and each of us will receive, if we just have the courage to choose it and then act on it. The only people who ever really change the world are saints. Each of us can be one of them. But we need to want sainthood, and then we need to follow the path that comes with it.
Bernanos once wrote that the optimism of the modern world is like whistling past a graveyard. It’s a cheap substitute for real hope and “a sly form of selfishness, a method of isolating [ourselves] from the unhappiness of others” by thinking progressive thoughts. Real hope “must be won. [We] can only attain hope through truth, at the cost of great effort and long patience . . . Hope is a virtue, virtus, strength; an heroic determination of the soul. [And] the highest form of hope is despair overcome.”
Anyone who hasn’t noticed the scope of despair and suffering in the world around us today, urgently needs to open his eyes. My point is this: We can only attain hope through truth. And what that means is this: From the moment Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” the most important statement anyone can make—both for life here and life in eternity—is “Jesus Christ is Lord.”Most Rev. Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M., Cap. is the Archbishop of Denver.