In his visit to the poorer section of New York City, Pope Saint John Paul II preached these encouraging words: “We are an Easter people!” By these words preached in a very deprived section of New York, the holy pontiff was stressing the fact that Jesus Christ truly rose from the dead and opened the gates of Heaven for all of us. This indeed is a message of great hope for all who desire to open their hearts to the Risen Lord Jesus.
In many hearts, even those of Catholics, the virtue of hope seems to be smoldering, tottering, vacillating, even extinguished. However, the Risen Lord Jesus is so kind, compassionate, loving, merciful and patient that He will most willingly infuse within us a renewed hope and joy if we open our hearts to His knocking.
Maybe you have a heart assaulted by doubts, anxieties, fears, insecurities and confusion. If such is the case, the Word of God is addressed to you right now: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. Whoever opens the door, I will enter and dine with them, and they with me.” (Rev. 3:19)
Hope is not a wishful, whimsical and sentimental feeling, as in the expression: “Well, I hope so!”
What is hope then? Hope is one of the three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity. These three theological virtues were instilled in our soul when we were baptized. Of course, like seeds planted in the ground, these virtues must be cultivated. As the young express it today: “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” So, let us use and cultivate hope so that we do not lose it.
Perhaps the best way to understand the theological virtue of hope is summarized by Saint Faustina, boiled down to five simple words: Jesus, I Trust in You! These words, written at the bottom of the image of Divine Mercy, summarize the essence of our message on the virtue of hope. We must place a total, constant, unreserved, solid Trust in Jesus in all times, places, and circumstances. We must abandon our lives to the loving care of Jesus, and trust that He loves us, and always acts in a way that is in our best interest, even though we do not always understand the ways of Divine Providence. As the Psalmist points out, His ways are not our ways, and as high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are God’s ways above our ways. (Is. 55:9)
We live in time, but God lives in eternity. Past, present and future all converge with God. He sees the whole picture; and we see only a very limited part of the whole scenario.
What then are some concrete ways that we can foster, bolster, and fortify the virtue of Hope in our lives, so that we can fill others with hope and joy? We will offer a few simple points; let us grab on to them, and be buoyed up by the solid anchor of hope.
1. God’s Love for Me
First, we must be firmly convicted and convinced that our God is not a tyrant, dictator, or mean-spirited boss who seeks to punish us. Quite the contrary, our God is a loving Father who loves each and every one of us with an eternal love, a love that is immutable—never subject to change. The more weak, vulnerable, and miserable we become, the more God embraces us with His love! This we see exemplified in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which can rightly be termed, “The Parable of the Merciful Father.” (Lk. 15:11-15) Re-read this Bible story paying particular attention to the actions of the father!
2. He Sent His Son To Save Me
God the Father manifested His infinite love for us in sending His only Son to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. Jesus was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary, was born, lived, and was crucified. He then died and was buried, and rose from the dead—all of this for love of every one of us. How precious you are in the eyes of God!
3. Jesus Left Us the Church: The Mystical Body of Christ
Another reason to rejoice in hope is that even though Jesus ascended into Heaven, after His death and Resurrection, He did not leave us orphans. Rather, Jesus left His presence among us in the Church, which is His Mystical Body.
4. Jesus Present in the Most Holy Eucharist
The very heart and center of the Church is Jesus truly present in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, most specifically in the Holy Eucharist. Those who believe and are in the state of grace are invited to receive Jesus into the very depths of their soul and experience life and life in abundance!
5. Friendship With Jesus
At the Last Supper Jesus called His Apostles, His Friends. He also wants us to be His intimate Friends. Why not starting today strive to cultivate a deep, dynamic and strong bond of friendship with Jesus. He is the Faithful Friend, the Friend who will never fail you!
6. Heaven Awaits Us
A reality that is too often neglected in our thoughts, is the reality of Heaven. We often pray the Our Father, starting with these words: “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” But all too often we forget to meditate upon the reality of Heaven. Heaven indeed exists. Jesus has prepared a place for all of us in Heaven. This thought should inundate us with hope and joy, and spur us on to attain this cherished prize.
7. The Lord Is My Shepherd, There Is Nothing I Shall Want. (PS. 23)
At any time and any place, we can close our eyes and imagine that we are walking in the quiet, peaceful, and refreshing meadows where Jesus, the Good Shepherd, wants to walk with us, talk to us, listen to us, encourage us, support us and love us. Why not read this Psalm slowly and carefully today. Then take a long, peaceful walk with Jesus, the Good Shepherd of your soul? He is patiently waiting for you.
8. Diary of Divine Mercy in My Soul
One of the spiritual classics that has left an indelible impression on my life in the past few years is the Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul. Jesus chose the humble, holy nun Saint Faustina Kowalska, known as The Secretary of Divine Mercy, to communicate to the world one of the most urgent messages of all times: God is rich in mercy, God loves us, God is ready to forgive us and embrace us in His loving arms. I cannot encourage with greater emphasis the purchasing and daily reading and meditating on this spiritual masterpiece, even one number per day! One of the most exquisite fruits of the constant, assiduous and daily reading of the Diary will be a renewed hope welling-up in our hearts and an expansive and overflowing joy.
9. Share Your Hope and Joy With Others
If we indeed follow these suggestions, the net-result will be an increase of hope and joy. However, it must be understood, this hope and joy cannot be kept to ourselves, it must be shared with others. By sharing our hope and joy with others, they will be enlightened and pulled out of the pit of discouragement, and at the same time our own hope and joy will be fortified and grow all the more! “Let your light shine before men so that you will give glory to your Heavenly Father.” (Mt. 5:16)
10. Mary: Our Life, Our Sweetness, and Our Hope
The beautiful prayer that we say with so much joy at the end of the Holy Rosary, the Hail Holy Queen, starts with these words: “Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope….” These are words of great encouragement. Mary is indeed a well-spring and fountain of abundant hope. We invite all to read and meditate upon the Marian classic and Masterpiece, “The Glories of Mary”, by St. Alphonsus Liguori. In fact, this spiritual gem is a commentary on the prayer, Hail Holy Queen. By reading, meditating on and assimilating these truths, undoubtedly, we will be filled with hope and joy, and become an overflowing well-spring of hope and joy for others. Again, the book is broken into sections of a few pages. Resolve to read at least one section per day. Then your day will be buoyed up by Jesus’ Divine Mercy and our Mother of Mercy!
My friends, we are all Easter people! We are indeed men and women imbued with the virtue of hope. May Our Lady, who is truly our life, our sweetness, and our hope inspire us to trust fully in God’s love for us, her maternal care and love for us, and Jesus’ deep abiding Friendship with us. Then we will truly be a bright light shining in the darkness and a shining star pointing to our heavenly reward.