While my son is not yet four years old, he has become a master negotiator (at least in his mind). When he wants something, he usually begins with one of two phrases: “How about this,” or “Dad, we have a problem.” He’ll then proceed to make a proposal in hope that the judge and jury will hear his plea.
And when it’s an affirmative answer, the sheer glee that comes across his face, followed by an emphatic “OK! Let’s do it!” can’t help but make you smile.
Oh, to be a toddler again! Living constantly in a state of hope between what is and what is not yet realized.
Yet, as we celebrate Easter, we are called to reflect upon this exact state which we find ourselves in: being between the reality of Christ’s Resurrection and the gift of eternal life not yet actualized by us this side of the grave.
It is this state of hope that St. Paul refers to in Romans 8:23-24 — of bodies not yet resurrected — and it is in reflecting on this virtue that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote his encyclical Spes Salvi (Saved in Hope).
If you have not read it, I invite you to read this encyclical as you journey through the Easter season as a means of looking forward in hope.
In it, Pope Benedict highlights the necessity of renewing our sense of hope so that we may, in a sense, re-encounter God Who is the source of hope. He writes:
“To come to know God — the true God — means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God” (Spes Salvi, 3).
Pope Benedict’s words recall a point I have previously made: that for a renewal in our culture and faith to take place we must encounter the Risen Lord. Otherwise, we risk becoming accustomed to a “concept of God” and forget Who God truly is, what He calls us to or, worse yet, fashion our own “concept of God” that is more a reflection of ourselves than the one, true God.
Just think to the encounter facilitated by St. Mary Magdalene, who aided the Apostles Peter and John to encounter the reality of the Resurrection upon seeing the empty tomb. Do we help others, especially those “locked in their own upper rooms,” realize that the tomb is indeed empty?
Why does this matter? Because in a time when we are looking for hope, Easter reminds us that true hope begins with God, not ourselves. At Calvary, we see the Word made flesh die for us precisely because we could not save ourselves.
If we are to move forward, we — as individuals, as a society, and as a culture — must recognize our need for God.
Apart from Christ, we can do nothing (cf Jn 15:5).
Yet, with Christ, all things are possible (cf Mt 19:26).
So how do we move forward in hope? Pope Benedict points us to three things in his encyclical:
1. Prayer as a school of hope (Spes Salvi 33-34).
Here, he writes: “When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God, if I pray, I am never totally alone.” Talk about reassurance that God has not abandoned us!
Come to know the God of everlasting hope by speaking with Him in prayer. Attend the greatest form of prayer as a family — the Mass. Pray daily. Pray with your family and especially your spouse and children. Think: how can we make God the focus of our family?
2. Action and suffering as settings for learning hope (Spes Salvi 35-40).
Suffering is part of our human existence. While our free will allows us to choose love, it can also be misused to cause great suffering. Yet, through the cross, Christ redeemed suffering and allowed us to join our suffering with His. You never suffer alone. Christ suffers with you and in suffering there is hope. Never give up!
To this end, seek out those who are suffering, share in their suffering, and bear it with them like Simon of Cyrene helped Jesus bear His cross. If you want to teach your family how to love, model for them how to accompany those who suffer, not avoid them. Think: who are those suffering or are at-risk that need our compassion?
3. Judgment as a setting for learning and practicing hope (Spes Salvi 41-48).
Pope Benedict concludes by reflecting on the Last Judgment. He notes that while it is normally portrayed as “a symbol of our responsibility for our lives,” it is also a symbol of hope, for in it the Risen Lord returns. While suffering exists in this world, one day, God will come and set it all right. That’s a good thing!
Read Mt 25:31-46 and notice the “works” Jesus highlights at the Last Judgment. While we refer to them as works of mercy, they can just as easily be referred to as works of hope. Yes, we will be held accountable for how we lived our lives; for what we have done and what we have failed to do. But judgment should not be something we fear, for we are also held accountable for what we do that is good in God’s sight. So, make these “works of hope” a priority in your family. While we may be inclined to turn to them in Lent, we are called to live the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy year-round. Think: how can we enact them in our current realities?
In these three things, we learn how to respond to despair and live the hope of Easter: be fed by prayer, respond to suffering with compassion, and then put hope into action. This is how love becomes justice.
God is calling us to be agents of hope. I invite you to respond with my son with an emphatic “OK! Let’s do it!”.
Anchor columnist David Carvalho is the senior director for Faith Formation, Youth, Young Adult and Family Life Ministries for the Diocese of Fall River. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.