For much of my life I tried to muster up enough hope in others, myself and even God. Only after years of trying so hard the wrong way have I come to learn and appreciate that if my hope is in God I will NEVER be disappointed. St. Paul made this point explicitly when he wrote that “hope does not disappoint.” Why? He went on: “because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).
A few years ago I was struggling to have hope that the challenges we were faced with in my home diocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis would turn out for the good. I remember on one of my days of recollection at my little cabin in northern Minnesota an interior grace God gave me which was difficult, but fruitful. Essentially in prayer He placed before me two options: you can choose to remain stuck in relying on your own hope or you can receive my hope.
God’s hope I wondered? Then it clicked with me. I was trying way too hard to have hope in others and myself but realized we are all so limited and broken. Whereas the gift of God’s hope never disappoints.
What it meant however was that I needed to surrender to God the way I wanted Him to fix the things I wanted fixed in my way and timeline. He invited me to surrender my failed plan of personal hope and trust Him.
Thanks be to God I eventually was able to surrender what I could not control or fix and choose to receive His gift of supernatural hope. Remember again what St. Paul says about how we receive this hope: “through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” This is not a hope that we can produce or make on our own; instead, it comes as a pure gift from God.
For together with faith and charity, hope is one of the theological virtues, the habits of the spiritual life which we receive from God in our baptism. While faith concerns our trust in God and belief in all that He has revealed to us and charity concerns our love of God beyond all else and love of neighbor as ourselves, hope concerns our confidence that God’s promises to me and to us will in fact be fulfilled.
It is not optimism. Many saints have been both pessimistic about the human state of affairs and deeply hopeful that God’s promises will ultimately come to fruition. For our God is a God of promises, and His promises will in fact come true. Hope is the virtue by which we recognize, embrace and live this truth.
Again, hope is given to us together with faith and charity; all three need one another, just as a three-legged stool will fall if any one of the legs is removed. And all three are freely given to us by God; we do nothing to earn them. All we need to do is receive them and surrender all our fears, anxieties and false hopes trusting that His plan, even if it entails suffering and loss, will bring about great things.
Recall the words of St. John: “perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). As we grow in faith, hope and charity, our peace increases and fear disappears.
In these days of dealing with the effects of COVID 19, I encourage us all to keep our eyes focused on God and humbly ask for His gracious gifts of faith, hope and love, knowing that hope does not disappoint and God’s love casts out all fear.