As I write this, my spiritual mother and father are anxiously waiting with their son and daughter to see whether or not their granddaughter will have permanent brain damage after she went into cardiac arrest after she was born. Another one of my closest friends suddenly lost a cousin who was perfectly healthy and in the prime of her life. Multiple friends and their loved ones are battling cancer. We are in a period of great division in our nation. Meanwhile, this pandemic continues to linger with its uncertainty along with the reality that it too is fomenting division.
With so much going on in the world, Christ still calls us to hope against hope. He calls us to walk into the darkness with a complete surrender and abandonment to Him in trust. To lean in when we doubt and to seek His strength when we are weak. St. Paul tells us that ‘it is in our weakness that we are made strong’, but we cannot come to understand this truth until we fall to the ground under the weight of our self-dependent burdens and allow Christ to pick us back up.
Far too often we try to carry everything ourselves. We may not fully realize that we are not giving everything over to Christ. We think we must go it alone, not burden others, or be strong. It is only through a confrontation with, and acceptance of our weakness, that we can progress in holiness. Part of this strengthening comes through the supernatural virtue of hope. It is the virtue that leads us to continue on the way, despite the obstacles and afflictions that beset us. It also tests and strengthens our faith:
We prove the firmness of our faith by persevering in it in spite of its obscurity; we prove that our hope is strong by continuing in hope in spite of adversity and even when God seems to have abandoned us. As an act of faith made in the midst of darkness and doubts is more meritorious, so is it with the act of hope uttered in desolation and abandonment.— Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene, Divine Intimacy, #248
Often when life is going well and we are comfortable, we become more dependent upon ourselves. We can also develop a false sense of security that deceives us about the realities of this life. We are promised suffering and affliction, not comfort. If we believe that God promises us comfort and ease in this life, then we will be utterly devastated when inevitable afflictions arise.
As Christian disciples, we must come to see trials as the training grounds for growing in holiness. It is in the darkest hour that Christ is working the most in our souls. We too must walk the way of Job, coming to trust completely in God’s designs, even as they are so much higher than our own:
To help us reach this point, God leads us through the crucible of trials. The story of Job is re-enacted in some way in the life of every soul dear to God; he was tried in his property, his children, his own person, deserted by his friends, and ridiculed by his wife. He who had been rich and esteemed, found himself alone on a dunghill, covered from head to foot with terrible sores. But if God is good, if it is true that He desires our good, why does He permit all this?…Because God wishes to try them as gold in the furnace, purifying them and raising them to a good, to a state of happiness immeasurably superior to the goods and the happiness of earth.Ibid
In His infinite love and mercy, God has to lead us away from a dependence on the things of this life to lead us towards the riches of heaven. It is in this way that we are refined through loss and detachment, and through a trust in God’s goodness that is dependent upon the supernatural virtue of hope. We are hoping in the things that are to come in eternal life as we suffer the trials of this life. We are clinging to hope when we look at a tiny baby hooked up to so many machines incapable of breathing on her own. We are always holding to stubborn hope as we embrace the Cross in each moment of the day, trusting that transfiguration and redemption will come.
Our acts of hope in good times are nothing compared to our acts of hope made in periods of utter darkness. It is during these afflictions that we choose to hope against hope and to submit in trust to Christ.
The least act of hope, of trust in God, made in the midst of trials, in a state of interior or exterior desolation, is worth far more than a thousands acts made in times of joy and prosperity.Ibid
It is essential for us to remember that our acts of hope, faith, or charity are not dependent upon our feelings. They depend on our will and deep desire to trust in God no matter what happens.
When we are suffering in mind or body, when we are experiencing the void of abandonment and helplessness, when we find ourselves a prey to the repugnances and rebellions of nature which would like to throw off the yoke of the Lord, we cannot pretend to have the comforting feeling of hope, of confidence; often we may even experience the opposite sentiment, and yet, even in this state we can make acts of hope and of confidence which are not felt but willed. The theological virtues are practiced essentially by the will.Ibid
For each one of us to accept the gifts of the supernatural virtues does not mean we will always experience feelings of consolation. This is a great spiritual danger in a time when feelings rule the day. Our faith in Christ and our hope are not predicated upon how we feel. It is dependent upon our choice to move towards Him even if we feel as if we are in utter darkness or we feel nothing. Feelings come and go, but the supernatural virtues only wither if we refuse to cooperate with God’s working in our soul.
These are trying times for everyone. It is a time of great spiritual graces, however, because Christ transfigures us through the Cross. He grants great graces to us through our suffering in hope. We must lean in and come to depend on Him even more as we continue to hope against hope, no matter what may arise in the future. Whenever we feel overwhelmed, discouraged, or abandon that is the time to turn to Christ in greater trust and with confident hope in Him alone.