The Epistle Romans 8.18
I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creature waitheth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.
What does it mean to us when we say that we “hope”? We all know how we use the word in our daily conversations; We hope that we will have good health; we hope that the traffic will not be too bad when we leave church today; we hope that the rains will finally let up! We hope that our favorite sports teams will win the championship (and for all you Cavaliers fans; we’ll get ‘em next year!).
But really, what does it mean to have hope? Well, first of all, let’s define the word “hope”. (yup, you guessed it; here we go again with the dictionary!) From the Webster’s; to cherish a desire with anticipation. The feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best. OK, given the way we use the word, those definitions make sense, don’t they? But then, we have the Christian definition of the word “hope”; a Divine virtue by which we confidently expect, with God’s help, to reach eternal felicity as well as to have at our disposal the means of securing it.
This definition of Hope is what St. Paul implies in today’s lesson. As he writes to the Christians in Rome, he recognizes that their world is in a troubled state. He paints an image of a crumbling world that is waiting; waiting for the coming new age; waiting for the Glory of God to be made visible. A world waiting to be freed from decay and from the bondage of evil.
St. Paul also goes on to describe their world as groaning in pain under this bondage and decay, even as it waits for its freedom. And so it is likewise, for us. Even we who have believed and rejoiced at the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, have accepted him as our Savior, have received his gifts and his Grace, and have been blessed by the presence of his Holy Spirit; even we groan under the weight of this present world. But St. Paul then reminds us of that which strengthens us and allows us to persevere; our Hope.
But this is no ordinary hope that St. Paul alludes to. It is the hope of our adoption as children of God. It is the hope of our redemption as a people who have been saved by the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is the movement of our natural inclinations toward a future good which may be hard to reach, but is attainable nonetheless; and has as its immediate focus and object God Himself. It is a hope that is Divinely initiated and because of that, it becomes a virtue infused by the Almighty.
We can hope to win the lottery. We can hope that gas prices will go down. We can hope that the rains will abate. We can “cherish a desire with anticipation” that this will be THE year for the Indians (or in my case, the Tigers). We can feel that the results of the next election will be what we wanted or that they will turn out for the best. We can hope that some or all of these may come to pass in such a way as to make our life easier or somewhat better here on earth. But none of these “hopes” are truly virtuous because they do not have God as their central object and focus.
I know that this may be a bit difficult to think about, particularly when we have so many things in this world that take our attention away from God. And we may think that this is justifiable. After all, we cannot ignore the constant rains that are flooding our basements and drowning our gardens. We have to take gas prices into account when planning even our normal activities, like coming to Church. And I wouldn’t want anyone to simply ignore the coming elections and the issues that we must deal with. But we must remember that these are all just concerns of THIS world. And our true hope, our Virtuous Hope, lies not in this world, but in the next.
To “confidently expect, with God’s help, to reach eternal felicity”. This is the Hope that St. Paul is talking about. It’s what he means when he says that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us”. It’s what he means when he says that we are waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. To “confidently expect, with God’s help, to reach eternal felicity”; To be brought into the presence of His Eternal Love.
Of course, I have just mentioned only the first part of our Virtuous Hope. Remember it’s not just about expecting to reach eternal felicity, but also “to have at our disposal the means of securing it”. St. Paul alludes to those means; the firstfruits of the Spirit, the Grace of God given to us here on earth. They include the inspired Word of God, the Holy Gospel. They include the Sacraments, most especially the Blessed Sacrament. They include the Bride of Christ, the Holy Catholic Church. They include our devotions to his Blessed Mother. They include the faith and witness of all the saints throughout history. A pretty impressive list; and these are just the “first-fruits”. They are all at our disposal and they are the reason why we can be confident in our expectation that we will reach Eternal Felicity because they are “God’s help”.
And you know what else is unique about them? They are all focused on God; the Sacraments; the Grace of God; The Blessed Sacrament, when we receive God; Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity; The Rosary where we ask for the prayers of God’s Holy Mother. And the witness of the saints who dedicated their lives to God; sometimes even paying the ultimate price for their Faith. It is through these God-infused, God-initiated, God-inspired means that we grow confident in our expectation that we will some day be in God’s Eternal Presence. It is through these means that we have our Virtuous Hope.
So, how do we define “Hope”? And back to the original question; what does it mean to have hope? Yes, we desire to be with God and we look to that day with great anticipation. We know that this objective can be ours and that all things will eventually turn out as God has planned. And as long as our focus and objective always remains centered on God, then we can confidently expect to reach His Eternal Felicity, to be in presence of His Eternal love, because He has placed at our disposal the means of securing it. It is God who has given us such a Virtue of Hope.