The Pope, the Synod, & Hope

Widespread are the Catholics who are dismayed, confused, and even angered by the ambiguous or alarming information from the recent Synod on the Family. They should, however, resist the widespread tendency to accuse the Holy Father of setting Holy Mother Church afire. In times of turmoil, Catholics should stand firm in the Faith, in loving solidarity, and most importantly, with hope; for hope is the anchor that secures a tempest-rocked ship. Many Catholics, however, appear to be losing their hold on hope in the wake of the synod reports.

Though the need for hope is high in these days of controversy and question, it is the most difficult of the virtues to grasp. Hope deals with the ultimate destiny or purpose of humanity: the glory of the saints. The heart of hope, therefore, beats to the ancient call of the early Christians, “Lord, come!” Hope points beyond the veil of mystery, glimpsing the good that gives strength to endure the end. The strength of Catholics is certainly being tested nowadays with so many lampooning and lambasting the pope for the unfortunate distortions and misinterpretations proceeding from the synod. Pope Francis, we must hope, is leading his flock to the Lord in the desire to see them safely into the fold of the saints. Intentions are always so important to consider and can be a source of peace and perspective—and hope. Those who retain hope, retain their composure in frustration. Hope is essential to the peace of the soul and the peace of the Church.

But what is hope?

Hope is the challenge of the theological virtues, both in its attainment and understanding. The other two—faith and charity—are more tangible. Faith is the belief and certitude in God’s existence as the support of human existence. Charity is the union to God through friendship with Him and love of neighbor. Hope is the elusive virtue; the virtue that animates both faith and charity by placing God as the perfect good of man, making all good things promises of the eternal good. Faith and charity require hope, for hope is the striving toward eternal life. Hope directs man to God as the perfect end, in the trust that God will render the effort to be with Him possible.

When hardship strikes, it is more important than ever to maintain our view of the good and, thereby, maintain our security in hope. Pope Francis may not be articulating the Faith in the way that many think he ought, but he is notwithstanding a man of faith. Even by giving our humble and kind pontiff the benefit of the doubt—at the very least—we reinforce our hope and the hopes of others. This is vital when confusion reigns because hope provides direction. The most basic metaphor for the Christian life is “the Way.” We are pilgrims ever seeking fulfillment, ever moving towards a high and holy place of rest and enjoyment. Man was created to be a pilgrim, to live for the sake of something. As Genesis teaches, all creation is aimed towards God, towards the Sabbath, towards rest. This gift is made possible by faith, charity, and hope because they make us cling and adhere to God along the Way. No matter how the media, or even Catholics, misquote, misconstrue, or mistrust his words, Pope Francis is laboring to keep us upon the Way; and trying to inspire the Church to keep to the true path. This is good. This is a source of consolation. This is a source of hope.

At this particular and perplexing stage in our communal journey through time, it is by hope that God will remain our beacon, recognized clearly as what is good: our perfect goodness. Hope is rooted in the notion of goodness, rendering all good things as glimpses of the eternal Good, Who is God and the ultimate End. Hope unites people to God as their perfect end, trusting that God will make this possible by human efforts—even the pope’s. Our purpose is to be filled with goodness, and the emptiness of sin draws us back into the very nothingness we were created out of by God. Sin perverts the good and thereby makes it unattainable. Hope is the needful support in the capacity to reject sin and gain the promises of Christ as it orients us towards God’s will, allowing us to stake a claim on happiness, on eternal life, on fulfillment. Hope looks resolutely to the good, keeping the Way true, even when we may feel lost.

Besides providing a vision of the good, hope is also the desire to attain and know the enjoyment of God. Hope is the intention of eternal life, trusting that God will give us the means to achieve what is held by the gift of faith and the impulse of charity. Hope is the great anchor, requiring and providing patient and solid sufferance as we work out our salvation to receive the goodly reward that hope keeps our eyes fixed upon. Hope demands such magnanimity, or the choice of the greatest things, together with humility, the understanding of self worth.

Pope Francis is the representative of Christ on earth, and our hope, our happiness, rests in the contemplation of Christ with us Who is our hope of glory. Let us pray for our pope and the burdens of his office, that our union with Our Father may find footing in our union with our brother, Francis. May it prove the foundation of our hope, our conformity with Christ, that we may see Christ in our neighbors and He may see Himself in us. Let us be humble. Let us be patient. Let us be calm. By the Incarnation, what Christ expects, He Himself has done. What He commands, He has completed. Who He is, we must become. This is Pope Francis’ mission as it is ours, and we should strive to support the Vicar of Christ to our best abilities, and thereby support Christ. Whether commending or critiquing, we should ever proceed in charity and faith, that hope may not be lost. Let us bear well in mind, in heart, and in deed the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians: Hold fast to what is good; and in Romans: Rejoice in hope, patient in tribulation, constant in prayer. Let us not lose sight of the good. Let us not lose hope.

Ultimately, truth is more important than the Pope. It may be true that the synod was mishandled, misplaced, or misguided, but the role of faithful Catholics in times of confusion is to retain the even keel of hope, and avoid words and wars that can cause scandal, panic, bitterness, or wrath. There is a time and a place for admonishment, even accusation, of leaders—even of the pope. But Catholics need to bear in mind the repercussions of public actions, considering that they may threaten our own hope or the hope of our neighbor by casting the vision of the good beneath a pall of negativity. The Catholic Faith is a faith of optimism, a religion of positive power; and that because it is a Church that relies on hope to enliven faith and charity. Without hope, faith and charity are dead things.

Do not give up hope. Maintain and spread the vision of the good, that hope may prevail through troubles and keep alive the faith and the love that binds every person, and especially every Catholic, to stand as one against the storms that threaten to topple our peace and our hope.

image: giulio napolitano /

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Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

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