September 11, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Prayer, action and suffering are ‘schools of hope’

Pope Benedict XVI tells us in his encyclical letter “Spe Salvi” (“Saved by Hope”) that anyone who does not know God, “even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope, without the great hope that sustains the whole of life” (cf. Eph 2:12).

How do we come to know God? Where do we find hope?

Pope Benedict describes three essential “settings” for our search for God, and for learning and practicing hope.

The first setting is prayer, which the Holy Father calls a “School of Hope.”

Prayer opens our hearts to God. It stretches us—challenging us to move beyond our own preoccupations and desires. “When we pray properly, we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well” (“Spe Salvi,” #33).

Christian prayer is always personal, an encounter between each individual and God. But prayer is never individualistic.

As the pope teaches, even personal prayer “must be constantly guided and enlightened by the great prayers of the Church and of the saints, by liturgical prayer, in which the Lord teaches us again and again how to pray properly” (“Spe Salvi,” #34).

In prayer, we speak to God and he speaks to us. We become open to God, and he directs us away from our

self-centeredness to the service of others. This is how prayer teaches us to hope—by reminding us that we are never alone and by placing us in the presence of God, the true source of our hope.

God is the foundation of hope. In prayer, we find hope in “the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter situated in a future that will never arrive; his kingdom is present wherever he is loved and his love reaches us” (“Spe Salvi,” #31).

The second essential setting for learning and practicing hope is action.

Pope Benedict tells us that “all serious and upright human conduct is hope in action” (“Spe Salvi,” #35). This is why we get out of bed in the morning—because we believe that our efforts, our work and our relationships can make a difference.

Certainly, we encounter obstacles in our daily life, failures and disappointments that tempt us to wonder whether we can really make a difference after all.

Christian hope remains steadfast even in the face of personal failures and the failures of humanity. Ours is a lasting hope. We know we cannot build the Kingdom of God by our own efforts alone, and we know that the mission we have been given—as individuals and as Church—will not be a finished product until the Lord comes again. But we keep working; we do not lose hope.

Pope Benedict writes, “It is important to know that I can always continue to hope even if in my own life, or in the historical period in which I am living, there seems to be nothing left to hope for” (“Spe Salvi,” #35).

Why do we remain hopeful in the face of seemingly hopeless challenges and insurmountable evil? Because we have faith in God who loved us so much that he sent his only son to redeem us. Because, with St. Paul, we believe that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).

The third essential setting for learning and practicing hope is suffering.

This is the ultimate test—how we handle the mystery of suffering. As individuals, and as a society, we are challenged to accept (and not to avoid or deny) the fact that suffering is an inescapable part of human life.

We Christians can accept suffering, and not run away from it, because Christ freely chose to suffer for us and with us.

We can join our suffering with his and, so, be witnesses (martyrs) who choose to sacrifice our comfort and security for the sake of the Gospel.

As Pope Benedict reminds us, “the capacity to suffer for the sake of the truth is the measure of humanity.” It is also where we witness Christian hope. “The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them because they were brimming with great hope” (“Spe Salvi,” #39).

Prayer, action and suffering are “schools of hope.” We pray that the Holy Spirit will sustain us in our efforts to learn, and to practice, this great Christian virtue of hope. †

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