There is a reason hope is a supernatural virtue along with charity and faith. We live in a Fallen and broken world. Every single one of us will be hurt, suffer, and face death. There are dark days for each one of us in which hope keeps us on the path and points us to our eschatological home. It doesn’t even take dark days to struggle in hope. We each live our vocations day-in-and-day-out, much of it in perceived monotony. In fact, monotony can seem to rob us of hope more than darkness and suffering at certain times in our lives. We are given vocations in order to sanctify and purify us, and that includes in daily living whether it comes with joy, suffering, or routine. In order to persevere on the path to sainthood, it is essential for us to learn hope. Hope is born of prayer and a much needed purification process. We must all learn to let go of those things which limit the great destiny for which we were made.
Since hope is a supernatural virtue it is a gift from God. This means it must be fostered through Him and our relationship with Him. Hope is strengthened and deepened most readily through regular prayer. It is in prayer that God increases our capacity to be filled up by Him. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI turns to Saint Augustine as a guide in his encyclical, Spe Salvi:
Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. “By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul, and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]”.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 33
We battle sin, selfishness, and our own desires. God must empty us, so that we may be filled with hope in Him. We must relinquish the hold we have on the things of this world. We must unclench our fists so that we can be open to Him.
Part of this process of being filled up by God begins with a purification. God helps us confront our weaknesses, failings, false gods, and distrust. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI goes on to explain Saint Augustine’s homily on hope as it pertains to the First Letter of John:
He [Saint Augustine] then uses a very beautiful image to describe this process of enlargement and preparation of the human heart. “Suppose that God wishes to fill you with honey [a symbol of God’s tenderness and goodness]; but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?” The vessel, that is your heart, must first be enlarged and then cleansed, freed from the vinegar and its taste. This requires hard work and is painful, but in this way alone do we become suited to that for which we are destined.
This cleansing process is a necessary part of the spiritual life. If we are to grow in hope and to achieve holiness, then God must strip us of our disordered attachments. Our small ‘hearts of stone’ must be replaced with large ‘hearts of flesh’. We cannot fully live hope if we do not entirely rest in God.
In reading this passage of Spes Salvi, I was blown away by its timeliness in my own life. I have felt a great pruning process occurring within myself and it is absolutely painful. God is helping me to confront those parts of me that must be abandoned so that I can be filled up by Him. My heart must be enlarged. This is true for all of us.
This purification process is fostered and directed in prayer. As we deepen our communion with God, we are able to learn more readily about our true needs.
In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God—what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things we desire at this moment—that meager, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them.
Human beings are great masters of self-deception. We convince ourselves that our vices or proclivities do us no harm. We can, and do, tell ourselves we need certain things when they are in fact harmful to us. This is the nature of sin. We place our own desires above our love of God. It is our life-long battle. When we pray, we open ourselves to God, but our prayer must be born of charity and truth. We must be willing to let go and accept God’s will in our lives, even in the face of suffering or disappointment. How many of us can look back on our lives and be truly thankful that God did not answer all of our prayers? I know I can.
This openness in prayer may not come naturally. Most of us are beginners at prayer and a good many of us struggle with ever present thoughts unrelated to our prayer life and God. Thankfully, Holy Mother Church is a guide on our prayer journey:
For prayer to develop this power of purification, it must, on the one hand, be something very personal, an encounter between my intimate self and God, the living God. On the other hand, it 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.
This makes complete sense. If we are wrapped up inside of ourselves, it is difficult to be open to God. That is why the Church shows us how to pray so that we may learn to enter deeper and deeper into communion with the Most Holy Trinity.
Since we are a part of the Mystical Body, our prayer life is not inside of a vacuum. We do not isolate ourselves in prayer. Prayer must be a balance between private and public. Our development in hope through purification and prayer must be learned in community as well.
Praying must always involve this intermingling of public and personal prayer. This is how we can speak to God and how God speaks to us. In this way we undergo those purifications by which we become open to God and are prepared for the service of our fellow man. We become capable of great hope, and thus we become ministers of hope to others. Hope in a Christian sense is always hope for others as well.
As Catholics we are called to live in hope as a community, as the organism which is the Mystical Body. God provides us with the supernatural virtue of hope. In order for us to grow and progress we must be purified and abandon those things that hinder us on the journey. Through prayer, we must open ourselves to God and His desires for our lives. We must allow him to enlarge our hearts, no matter how painful the process, so that we may be filled up by Him. If we do not open up, then we cannot move forward. As long as we desire to stay planted in our ways, our hope will rest in the wrong things of this life. Hope comes from God and it is a virtue we all need to persevere to our eschatological destiny of communion with the Most Holy Trinity. Let us pray for the strength to open ourselves to God’s tender hand, lovingly pruning us of our iniquities, so that we may live the joy and hope we were made for through God’s free act of creation born of Charity itself.