April 23, 2010

I Am Not Strong (On Hope)

I am not strong.

I am not bold.

You wouldn't know it from looking at all 6'2" and *cough* pounds of me, but I'm a pretty meek guy. When it comes time to inherit the earth (Matt 5:5), I'll be in that lucky group that can put up their hands and claim it. (Of course, we won't raise our hands because, you know... meek and all.)

Yet here I am, confident that I am called to share the Catholic faith with you, to make a bold presentation and bold challenge to live the beauty, goodness, and truth that is Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church. How can I hope to do it?

The answer is in the question: hope. As the Catechism tells us, "When God reveals Himself and calls him, man cannot fully respond to the divine love by his own powers. He must hope that God will give him the capacity..." [2090]

The difference between faith and hope
I've found it difficult to grasp the difference between faith and hope, or else I've slipped into thinking hope is just wishful thinking, like "I hope I get a bicycle from Santa Claus". Let's see what the apostle John had to say about it:
"Beloved, we are God's children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure, as he is pure." (1 John 3:2-3)
With God's gift of faith, we come to believe in Him. With the gift of hope, we believe that we will join Him. The faithful Catholic believes there is a Heaven. The hopeful Catholic believes he could be allowed inside. And, as John wrote, when we have hope we act on it - we purify ourselves so that we don't, through our own sin and impurity, dash that hope God gave us.

Living in hope
When our circumstances are difficult – mentally, physically, or emotionally – our foundation is tested. Jesus taught us this in His parable of houses build on rock and sand (Matt 7:24-27). When the winds blow against you, the results tell a lot about your foundation. What does it look like to have a strong foundation in Christian hope?

The Catechism tells us that "hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God; it is also the fear of offending God's love and of incurring punishment." [2090] Just as John told us, living in hope is a twofold prospect - believing that we can get to Heaven, and believing that we can offend God and turn away from Him to sin.

We shouldn't focus entirely on one side of that coin and forsake the other. It's a mistake to focus so much on God's mercy that we forget we can sin and turn from Him. I can't profess faith in God then spend a lifetime sinning and expect to be with Him in Heaven. Nothing imperfect will enter Heaven, after all. And I shouldn't focus entirely on my sinfulness to the extent that I forget God is merciful and forgiving. [2092]

In other words, keep yourself in the present. Don't dwell so much on past sin that you forget God's mercy or dwell so much in the future hope of glory that you forget to live a Christian life now. Take up your cross, as Jesus commanded (Mark 8:34), and follow Him confidently - hoping in Him, in His strength rather than your own, all the way to Calvary, and past it to resurrection.

Pray an Act of Hope today. Meditate on the words, taking your time with them, repeating them as the spirit moves you.

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