July 31, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

When we come to know God, we receive the gift of hope

Last week, I wrote that Christian hope is not the same as natural hope. In fact, supernatural hope is superior to natural hope.

This week begins a series of explanations about why this is true.

We begin with a fundamental reason for the superiority, indeed the necessity, of Christian hope. It has to do with our belief in God. It has to do with our relationship to God. We believe in God as a Father who loves us and has revealed that love to us through his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.

Quite simply, to come to know God means to receive hope.

In his encyclical letter on hope, “Spe Salvi” (“Saved by Hope”), Pope Benedict XVI tells us that a distinguishing mark of Christians is the fact that we have a future. We don’t know the details of what awaits us after death, but we are certain that our lives “will not end in emptiness” (#2).

What is the source of our hope? In baptism, we received “the full assurance of faith” (Heb 10:22).

By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we accepted the gift of unwavering confidence in God’s love for us. This is the source of our hope: that God knows us and loves us. That he wants us to be happy with him in this life and in the world to come.

There is no lasting hope anywhere else. If we place our hope in material things, in political systems, in charismatic leaders or in our own abilities, we will always be disappointed. God alone justifies our absolute confidence and trust. As Pope Benedict says, “to come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope” (#3).

Because we hope in God, we can live well. Hope does not remove life’s difficulties; it allows us to endure them. Hope does not prevent us from sinning, from turning away from God. But supernatural hope allows us to see beyond our own sinfulness to the mercy of God. It allows us to seek forgiveness and to begin again.

Christ is the messenger of divine hope. In the hope of Christ, there is salvation—now and always.

When we come to know God through Christ’s intercession in prayer, in the sacraments (especially the Eucharist), in service to others and in the silence of our hearts, we receive hope.

To know God is to understand that we have been created by a person who loves each one of us individually, and who invites us to share his life fully.

We are not the random result of some evolutionary accident. We are the sons and daughters of a Father who knows us and loves us. We have a brother, Jesus, who gave his life for us. And they poured out for us their life-giving Spirit, who sustains us and gives us hope. We are the family of God, and we have a future filled with hope.

To know God is to experience his divine love and to receive his promise of happiness now and in the life to come.

As Pope Benedict says, “The dark door of time and the future has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of new life” (#2).

With this wonderful gift of hope comes an awesome responsibility. As best we can, we must reject the darkness of sin and death, and live in the light. And we must be evangelizers—people who proclaim and live the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are to share our hope with others.

“The Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known,” Pope Benedict tells us. The Gospel “makes things happen and is life-changing” (#2).

Hope in Christ calls us to conversion. It invites and challenges us to accept Christ’s life-changing love. Because we hope in Christ, we are free to choose life. And once we make this choice, and renew it daily through prayer and the sacraments, we can come to know him, love him and serve him. To know God in Christ means to receive hope.

In “Spe Salvi,” Pope Benedict quotes St. Josephine Bakhita, a former African slave who was brutally tortured and abused, but who found hope and salvation in Christ. “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me, I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good” (#3).

I am reminded of the note I received from a grade school student while I was undergoing chemotherapy. In effect, he said we can have hope no matter what happens because God is good and he loves us. And so, he wrote, “Always stay glad.” Because we know God, we have hope. And so life is good.

Next week, we will reflect on what it means to be pilgrims on a journey of hope. †

Local site Links: