August 14, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Our faith makes authentic hope possible

We are a people of faith. We believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ has conquered sin and destroyed death.

Therefore, we have hope. Our faith makes authentic hope possible. What’s the relationship between these two theological virtues—faith and hope?

In his encyclical letter “Spe Salvi” (“Saved by Hope”), Pope Benedict XVI comments on the Church’s teaching about faith and hope first expressed in the Letter to the Hebrews. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the proof of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1).

The Holy Father explains that the Greek word “hypostasis,” which we translate as “substance,” means that the gift of Christian faith contains within it the seed (or substance) of the thing that every person hopes for: “the whole, true life” (“Spe Salvi,” #7).

We hope for genuine, abundant life, for communion with God, and for peace and harmony with our fellow human beings. Christians believe that what we hope for is already present in us, at least “in embryo,” because of the faith we received at the time of our baptism.

Why is this important practically? Because it provides us with assurance or proof that the things we hope for really do exist, that the basic truths of our faith are not simply wishful thinking. They have substance. They really exist in the present even if their full potential has not yet been realized.

For example, peace on Earth is something we hope for that has not yet been accomplished. Our faith tells us that God created people of every race, language and culture in his own image to be united with him and with one another now and in the world to come.

Faith gives us the assurance, the certainty, that this thing that we hope for but do not yet see—peace—will be realized once and for all in the kingdom of God.

We believe that God’s kingdom is already present in embryonic form in the Church and, because of our faith, we can be certain that the peace we hope for will become a reality in the fullness of time.

That’s why Pope Benedict tells us that “faith is not merely a personal reaching out toward things that are totally absent.” Faith is concrete and practical. “It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a ‘proof’ of the things that are still unseen” (“Spe Salvi,” #7).

Staying with our example, faith gives us something of the peace we hope for. To the extent that we have genuine faith, we are at peace, and as our faith matures and becomes part of us, our experience of the peace of Christ grows with it.

We see this in the lives of holy men and women throughout the more than 2,000 years of Christian history, beginning with Mary and Joseph, and extending to the Apostles, martyrs and saints of every age down to our own day, including St. Theodora Guérin and the Servant of God Bishop Simon Bruté.

These faithful women and men struggled with many obstacles, externally and internally, and they were often filled with a restless discontent based on their zeal for the Church’s mission. But in the end, they found the peace of Christ, which was the result of their faith, nurtured and developed through their prayer and witness to the Gospel.

Faith gives us what we hope for. As the Holy Father teaches, “Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a ‘not yet.’ The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality; and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present, and those of the present into those of the future” (“Spe Salvi,” #7).

What we’ve said about peace we can also say about truth and freedom, and justice and love. All of the things we hope for and believe we will experience in the joy of heaven have already been implanted in our hearts at baptism. It’s up to us whether we cultivate these precious gifts, with the help of God’s grace, or neglect them through selfishness and sin.

“Faith gives life a new basis,” Pope Benedict teaches, “a new foundation on which we can stand” (“Spe Salvi,” #8). When we stand on this firm foundation of faith, we have hope in Christ. Christ is our hope.

Because we are sinful people, it is always possible to lose hope and shrink from the responsibilities we have been given as people of faith.

And so we pray for the courage, and the certainty of faith, to trust that the things we hope for in life truly are present in our daily lives through the power of God’s grace. †

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