The Virtue Of Hope

This article covers The Virtue of Hope.

In his preface to the Holy Father’s Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Vittorio Messori remarks that John Paul is so impatient in his apostolic zeal that he “wants to shout from the rooftops (today crowded with television antennae) that there is hope, that it has been confirmed, that it is offered to whoever wants to accept it.”

In Tertio Millennio Adveniente (TMA), published in the same year as Crossing the Threshold of Hope (1994), the Pope speaks of the importance of hope in the context of “crossing the threshold of the new millennium” (no. 33). He indicates that these “crossings” imply a measure of difficulty as well as a need for purification.

“Good” hope, to use St. Paul’s qualifying adjective, must be distinguished from the many false hopes that surround us daily and are constant sources of temptation. We hope for wealth, beauty, fame, success, and a comfortable life. But these are largely vanities. They will not furnish us with what satisfies our deepest longing. They are transitory; we are immortal.

Happy Girls

Happy Girls

The Holy Father reminds us that good hope — or true hope — directs us to our final goal which gives ultimate meaning and value to everything that is part of our lives. Therefore, as he goes on to say,

Christians are called to prepare for the Great Jubilee of the beginning of the Third Millennium by renewing their hope in the definitive coming of the Kingdom of God, preparing for it daily in their hearts, in the Christian community to which they belong, in their particular social context, and in world history itself (TMA, no. 46).

Hope is about that which is ultimate — God — but it is not unrelated to the events that make up the substance of our lives. Indeed, hope transfigures them precisely because it relates them to their ultimate meaning. Hope is ultimate and immanent. But it is also essential, for no human being can endure its opposite — despair.

In his great poem, The Divine Comedy, Dante penned what may be his most celebrated line when he inscribed over the entrance way to hell these words: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here” (“Lasciate ogni speranza, voli ch’entrate”). The immediate meaning, that hell is a place of absolute finality where hope is no longer possible, is clear enough.

But there is a subtler and perhaps more important meaning that pertains not to the inhabitants of hell but to those whose final destinies have not yet been determined. This slightly veiled meaning informs people about how they can book passage to hell. For if hell is a place without hope, then by living without hope one is preparing for eternal tenancy in hell. When we live without hope, we take on the hopeless condition of hell, and at the same time make it our logical destiny. What we need, therefore, is an endless hope so that our lives do not come to a hopeless end.

The fact that hope is essential to man by no means makes it easy to acquire. The hope that John Paul is writing about in both Crossing the Threshold of Hope and Tertio Millennio Adveniente is something we must attain, secure, and purify through considerable difficulty.

Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II

One of the stormiest, if not the stormiest cape in the world is the Cape of Good Hope, located near the southern tip of Africa where the powerful currents of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans converge. When Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias discovered this cape in 1488, he called it, fittingly, the Cape of Storms. Later King John II of Portugal renamed it “Cape of Good Hope” in anticipation of finding a sea route to India. Vasco da Gama later proved the king right when he sailed around the cape and discovered the long-sought passage to India.

In this narrative, history and symbolism come together. The hope of finding a sea route to India was eventually fulfilled because hope had been kept alive. This is the historical fact. But added to this is the symbolism that the hope was a good hope inasmuch as it was forged in a climate of difficulty. The stormy cape provided the crucible in which hope was tested and purified so that it could emerge as “good hope.” As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: “Hope never spread her golden wings but in unfathomable seas.”

Woody Allen once remarked that “marriage is the loss of hope.” If he meant that marriage brings about the loss of vain and unprofitable illusion, he is correct. But disillusionment is not the same as the loss of hope. We often do not grasp real hope until its impostor has been dashed by disappointment. The disillusionment that often occurs within marriage is not the death of hope if through it the couple learns to accept the lack of perfection in each other and embraces the demands of true love.

Real hope is not crushed by disappointment. In fact, it is in difficulty that hope often is born. As Chesterton said, “As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is a mere flattery or platitude; it is when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength at all. Like all the Christian virtues, it is as unreasonable as it is indispensable.”

Good hope, therefore, has the qualities of realism, courage, patience, and the willingness to embrace difficulties. By contrast, what we might describe as “easy hope” lacks these virtuous qualities and is merely a wish for better things that has the aura of vanity or fantasy.

Hope is both ultimate and immanent, essential and difficult, natural and supernatural. It may well be compared, as the Pontiff states, citing St. Paul, with a mother in labor, for the mother, anticipating the birth of her child, incorporates all of these elements (cf. TMA, no. 23). The whole world is groaning under the weight of vanity. It is yearning to give birth to everlasting life and to share in the glorification of the sons of God (cf. Rom. 8:19-21). As the Holy Father reminds us, ours is “a time of great trial, but also of great hope.”

By Donald DeMarco


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The Author

Donald DeMarco is adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary and Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo Ontario. Donald DeMarco continues to work as a corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Donald DeMarco is on the Advisory Board of The Catholic Education Resource Center.

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