Saturday, May 24, 2014

Explanation of our hope

6th Sunday of Easter Year A:
Today in the letter of St. Peter he instructs us all to be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for our hope.  So that got me thinking, what is our hope?  If I’m going to have to give an explanation of my hope, I better know what that is.  We use the word “hope” quite often in our daily lives: I hope it doesn’t rain, I hope to see you later, let’s hope Notre Dame wins this weekend...  However, Hope is a theological virtue.  It is something quite profound.  Reflecting on hope led me to a writer named Josef Pieper, a renowned philosopher, who once wrote a great little article on Hope.
For us to understand hope, we first have to understand our human situation. Until death, men and women are perched on the knife blade between heaven and hell. 
Pieper explains man’s condition well when he states, “man finds himself, even until the moment of death, in the status viator, in the state of being on the way.”   This state of being on the way is natural for us because we were made from nothing and are progressing toward fulfillment (life with God in the Kingdom).  We do experience life as a journey, after all.  However, Pieper notes that though we are moving forward, we are frighteningly close to the nothingness whence we came: “the proximity to nothingness that is the very nature of created things.”   This rings true to our human experience, have you ever had a brush with death (a car crash for instance)?  Didn’t it feel like you were just moments from nothingness?  Since we come from non-being, we have the ability to return to this non-being: “by the very fact that it [the human person] stems from nothingness, its power can revert to non-being.”  
Yet on the other side, we long for the perfect fulfillment of heaven: “Beatitude is understood primarily as the fulfillment objectively appropriate to our nature… this fulfillment is the Beatific Vision.”   In other words, while we feel close to nothingness, we have this interior longing for a fulfillment beyond this world.
So man seems to be constantly tempted toward nothingness while he strives for fulfillment.  This tension between nothingness and fulfillment is the existential condition of living man.  And, this condition presupposes two possibilities, namely nothingness and fulfillment.  Pieper notes that hope is the virtue necessary for living a human life, torn as it is between being and nothingness.   Hope is the virtue (power) that God gives us to deal with this maddening tug: our mortality on one hand and our striving for heaven on the other.  So, if we are ever feeling torn by the troubles of this world and our longings for the world to come, between mortality and everlasting life, we should ask God for the gift of hope, the virtue for those on the way.
The gospel we have just heard should help us grow in our hope.  Jesus says, I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.  Christ will not allow the nothingness to win.  He came to lead us to new life.  We are full of hope, because we know that Christ is with us.  Even when life is tough, even in the midst of our most troubling circumstances, Christ has not abandoned us, he is with us.  Need proof?  Look no farther than the Eucharist.  This is Christ’s lasting presence with us.  He is never that far from us.  He is as near as the adoration chapel, the tabernacle here in Church, the altar when we celebrate Mass.
Give an explanation of our hope?  No better explanation than to say that I am full of hope in this life because Christ is never far from me.

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