July 24, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Pastoral letter to focus on Christ as our hope

“Hope” has been a recurring theme in expressing both our efforts and the fruit of our efforts in carrying on the mission of Christ in our archdiocese.

I recall that as we looked toward preparing ourselves for the celebration of the Jubilee 2000, we chose the theme “Journey of Hope 2001.”

We chose the idea that we were pilgrims on the way to a new Christian millennium and we could do so with hope.

Along the way to the new millennium, in order to resource our journey of hope, we launched our first major capital and endowment campaign. As a theme, we chose the title “Legacy of Hope.” Later, we titled a corporate campaign as “Building Communities of Hope.”

Last spring, we began to launch a new awareness of and emphasis on the particular mission of our Catholic Charities activities. We came up with “Spreading Hope in Neighborhoods Everywhere” (SHINE) as a way to capture our goal.

Just recently, as we were searching to craft a new descriptive expression of our way of carrying on the overall spiritual and pastoral mission of Christ in our local Church, we came up with the motto “Christ our Hope: Compassion in Community.”

It is not surprising that the theme of hope consistently preoccupies our minds and hearts. It is a fundamental supernatural virtue for all believers in Christ.

But I also think a natural hope is a poignant yearning of all peoples in our day.

There is a heaviness of spirit that is an effect of lowering the bar when it comes to societal values.

Materialism, secularism and untoward individualism do not lift the human spirit. In fact, superficial values that ignore the needs of our spiritual soul lead to a deeper natural longing for something better. There is hope for something better in life.

But there is a difference between natural hope and supernatural hope. There is a difference between the natural desire for happiness and a natural confidence in God. We have a natural hope when we plant a seedling that some day it will become a large tree. When we set out on a journey, we have a natural hope that we will reach our destination.

Our Christian hope is far superior to natural hope. Our Christian journey of hope is headed toward the Kingdom of eternal life, to supernatural happiness. Our goal is union with God our Father. Christ is the way, the truth and the life. In other words, Christ is our hope.

What natural hope and supernatural hope have in common is a lack of certainty that we will arrive at our goal. Hope is confidence in the unseen. Hope implies a foundation of faith or trust in the natural order. The nature of supernatural faith differentiates Christian hope from the natural order. Christ makes all the difference.

The virtue of hope is both a complex and rich reality. It merits further exploration as a major component of our Christian experience, and also as a necessary virtue in our quest for holiness and, ultimately, salvation. For that reason, I think it might be helpful to provide a pastoral letter on hope in serial form in my weekly columns for the next several weeks.

We are committed Catholic Christians and regularly look for help in pursuing our baptismal call to holiness of life. The virtues of faith, hope and charity are fundamental elements which enable us to become holy.

Deeper reflection on the virtue of Christian hope might serve as a stimulus to be more intentional and committed to living with supernatural hope. It may also open the door to a deeper evaluation of the values that govern our day-to-day lives.

Pope Benedict XVI obviously embraces the value of understanding and living our Christian hope with appreciation. Two years ago, he composed the encyclical letter “Spe Salvi.” The Latin title is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “In hope, we were saved” (Rom 8:24).

In his introduction, the Holy Father wrote: “According to the Christian faith, ‘redemption’—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads us 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. Now the question immediately arises: What sort of hope could ever justify the statement that, on the basis of that hope and simply because it exists, we are redeemed? And what sort of certainty is involved here?” (#1)

With Pope Benedict, we will pursue these questions. †

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