Our frailty and our diffidence never cease to make objections. We are so inclined to mistrust. To be anxious seems to us so natural a thing that often we try to withdraw from the peace that God has given us. We wonder if it can be an illusion; we scrutinize to see whether we may not have reason to be disturbed. Perhaps it occurs to us to say, “How is it possible to live in peace, without uneasiness, in this sad exile, so far from our blessed Fatherland, exposed to the loss of our happiness forever? Could the Israelites live without worry when they were wandering over the desolate sands of the desert, so far from the Promised Land and so exposed to the possibility of never reaching that land overflowing with milk and honey?”
There are at least two justifiable motives for anxiety. First, will that happy day ever come in which the intense yearning of my soul for close union with God will be satisfied? Or shall I remain like Moses, contemplating the Promised Land from Mount Nebo, without ever setting foot thereon?”
A second apparently legitimate reason for anxiety is this: If God loves me, if I am in His arms, from this viewpoint I should have no fear; but my frailty and my malice, which daily become more evident to me, will they not draw me away from the holy security of divine love? It is true that Jesus carries me in His arms, but do I not have the unfortunate prerogative of extricating myself? Jesus certainly loves me, but shall I also love Him? Shall I be faithful?
Do both of these causes of anxiety exist in reality? No. At first sight, they seem warranted, but our Lord placed in our soul some gifts so rich (we might even say divine) that they of themselves establish us in peace.
One of these gifts is the divine virtue of hope, a heavenly virtue, yet a forgotten virtue. How few souls, even among those consecrated to God, give this neglected virtue the importance that it deserves! Practical-minded, we are preoccupied with more human virtues, more in touch with earth: mortification, humility, obedience. Some persons look upon hope as an impractical virtue, almost useless; at least they know neither when nor how to practice it.
Nevertheless, hope is an eminently practical virtue; it is the virtue that drives far from our heart the specter of discouragement, the most frequent dangerous temptation in the spiritual life. As the inseparable companion of suffering, it confirms and strengthens peace in our soul.
Another motive of uneasiness is the preoccupation with the question of our attaining the divine union in the world and everlasting happiness in the next. In support of our fears, we hasten to quote certain scriptural passages, such as St. Peter’s admonition to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Solicitude is not synonymous with fear, not even the fear of God. The gift of the fear of God, the beginning of wisdom, is not a servile fear; it is a filial fear, the fear of the soul lest it lose its Beloved; it is a form of love. Evidently, such a fear is perfectly compatible with peace; we may say that it is one of the foundations of peace.
We can be sure that we shall attain union with God and eternal happiness, because we have God’s promise, and the promises of God are realities.
Abraham received magnificent promises from God, and strange as it seems, none was to be fulfilled for four hundred years after the patriarch’s time. Nevertheless, those divine promises filled his life with peace and consolation; his strong faith and hope gave him to understand that a promise of God is a reality.
Aware of man’s insincerity and limitations, we do not always place credence in human promises. God’s promise is reality. I have absolute certainty that what God has promised me will be fulfilled, because Heaven and earth shall pass away but God’s word shall never pass, because His name, as Scripture states, is Faithful and True. God has promised us eternal happiness, and to enable us to support the divine weight of that promise, He placed in our hearts the virtue of hope.
Divine hope is not like earthly hope. The latter is subject to disappointment, for however strong our security, it can either be realized or not realized. Who is the fortunate person who has seen all his hopes fulfilled in this world? But the theological virtue of hope is not subject to disappointment; it gives us the holy, invincible certainty that we shall obtain what God has promised.
St. Thomas, whose authority is indisputable in the Church, poses a problem when treating of this virtue of hope: If someone receives a revelation that he is to be condemned, what should he do? The saint does not hesitate to answer: Let him not believe it, because such a revelation would be opposed to the virtue of hope, and even if an angel from Heaven brought the message, the certainty given me by the divine virtue of hope is above all the angels of Heaven.
God has promised me eternal blessedness; that promise is as good as actual possession, for I enclose it within the confines of my impregnable hope. I do not base my hope on my liberty, so weak and fickle, nor on my limited strength, but upon the promise of God, His omnipotence, and His goodness.
Yet, someone may object that God has promised beatitude under such and such conditions. The conditions may be reduced to a single one, which was proclaimed by the angels at Bethlehem: “Peace on earth to men of good will.” They did not say “to men of character,” nor “to men of genius,” nor “to men of good deeds,” nor “to men of great virtue,” but “to men of good will.” When St. Thomas Aquinas’s sister asked him how to obtain salvation, he answered her with one phrase: “Will it.” Nothing more is necessary. The promises of God demand from us only this one condition: Will it!
Do we not sometimes have inward experience of the good will the angels heralded in Bethlehem? It is true that our will is weak and vacillating, but the angels promised peace not to men of energetic, constant, or strong will, but to men of good will.
Believe me, it takes a lot for a man to be damned — so much so, that at times I cannot explain the mystery to myself. It is not because I have no experience of man’s malice and ingratitude, nor because sin seems to me a rare occurrence.
Therefore, hope gives us peace.
The virtue of hope has another important function in this life. Hope is the inseparable companion of suffering; suffering without hope is a bitter, insupportable burden. Suffering is sometimes debilitating, oppressive, crushing. It crushed Jesus Himself, the very strength of Heaven. Did He not feel overwhelmed that night in Gethsemane? Did He not sweat blood? Was He not in agony? Did He not feel the weariness and sadness of death? Did He not exclaim, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me”?
And if suffering overwhelmed Jesus, why should it not crush our frailty? In the midst of our sufferings, we need something that will succor us in our weakness mercy, which struggles with the sinner until the final instant of life and support us in our wretchedness — something that, without blunting the pain, will make us see joy and happiness in the future and thus make us capable of persevering endurance.
Jesus Christ, as St. Paul teaches, foresaw the divine joy of glorifying the Father and the joy of making us happy, and because that joy was set before Him, He endured the Cross. The Cross is so beautiful, so fruitful, so very precious! But no one can support just the Cross alone. We can endure present suffering only so far as we can foresee future joy. It was thus that Jesus endured the Cross: “Jesus . . . for the joy that was set before Him, endured the Cross, despising the shame.”
Therefore, hope, which holds out to us sweet joy and complete happiness, is the inseparable companion of sorrow. Suffering without hope is a sad, desolate experience; suffering with hope is a wonderful combination.
Permit me to make a comparison that, although rather prosaic, seems suitable for clarifying my thought. Just as physicians blend certain substances so that one may counteract the effect of the other in the resultant medicine, so Jesus has made a happy combination of pain and hope. Suffering is the potent medicine of the spiritual life, hope is added to pain, and, with this combination, we can travel in peace over the dismal desert of this world with eyes and heart fixed on the promised land of eternity. Let us note that hope gives us not only the assurance of beatitude, but also the certainty of all graces for our sanctification.
Sometimes we say to God, “Lord, I promise you such and such a thing, provided You give me Your grace.” Again, “If our Lord grants me His grace, I shall do this or that.” It seems to me a kind of spiritual pleonasm to place this condition, “If He gives me His grace,” because such a thing is not conditional but absolute. I have at hand the graces necessary for my salvation, because I have at hand the divine promise. Never will God’s grace be lacking to me, because God is faithful and has promised to give me all that I need for my soul’s salvation.
Of course, if I begin to desire something that God has not promised, I must include the condition, “If God wants it, if God gives me His grace.”
But shall I correspond with God’s grace? Shall I not be unfaithful? This is the last stand of the diffident and the discouraged. I am sure that God has promised me beatitude and that He has put into my hands the necessary graces, but shall I correspond? Shall I preserve until the end the good will that I now possess?
To destroy this last doubt of the mistrustful, I offer two invulnerable points.
The first point is that fidelity itself is a gift of God; He is able to give it to me, and Scripture assures me that He does. St. Paul declares that God gives “both the will to do it and the accomplishment of that will.” Since the will depends upon Him, it is not subject to the vicissitudes and the velleities of poor human frailty. Therefore, I hold fast to hope; I possess my soul in peace.
Shall I persevere in the will to be faithful?
Lord, into Your hands I place both my will and my fidelity. I hope from You not only Your promised graces but also the will which that promise includes.
Still another objection may need to be settled. Although my frailty is great and my amazing gift of liberty may snatch me from God’s arms to cast me down the slope that leads to the abyss, I know that God loves me sufficiently either not to allow this or, if He should permit it, to come to look for me. He will descend with His love and His omnipotence along the slope that leads to destruction and He will take me in His arms, and like a good shepherd, He will place me upon His shoulders and bring me back to the fold. No, I do not fear my weakness, for as St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus said, “I know upon what I am relying in the love and the mercy of my Savior.”
If we understood these consoling truths, if we exercised and developed the virtue of hope within our own hearts, we would be established in peace, and the specter of distrust would disappear.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from Archbishop Martinez’s When God is Silent, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.