“God speaks, and in speaking he hands himself over to us. He loves, and in loving he hands his happiness over to us. He hopes, and his hope is his answer to Joan. The God we hear speaking is efficacious hope, a God new from all eternity.”
It is difficult to remain in hope, Benedict tells us in his newest encyclical, because it is difficult to remain in the often painful purification that is the “school of hope,” or prayer, and it is difficult to persevere in the consequence of that purification: the twofold opening to God and to our neighbor. Prayer, that most profound act of hope and most profound conversation, stretches us toward an ever-greater approximation to the dimensions of Life, eternal life (Spe salvi, 27), and toward the brethren into whose darkness the Son of God gave himself—for he gave himself “for all.” So thoroughly must this “for all” resonate in the Christian consciousness that, as the Pope reminds us, “To live for [Christ] means allowing oneself to be drawn into his being for others” (SS, 28). It means recognizing that just as my life and the lives of my brethren constantly “spill over” into one another for good and for ill (SS, 47), the salvation of my brethren is somehow my salvation, their hope is my hope: “Hope in a Christian sense is always hope for others as well” (SS, 34). Or, in the words of the poet Charles Péguy, “You do not save your soul as you would a treasure. You save it as you lose a treasure: in surrendering it. We must save ourselves together, we must arrive togetherbefore the good Lord. What would he say if we arrived before him, came home to him, without the others?”1 Every act of hope is an act both for my brethren and borne by them, and brings us together into Life: the life that is God’s gift to us, and that is God himself.
Hope binds: men to men, and man to God. It makes the human being supple, transparent to his neighbor and before the “good Lord,” and in doing so it has cosmic repercussions. In the words of Pope Benedict, hope keeps “the world open to God” (SS, 34). Since the world is not itself if it is not open to God, that is as much as to say that it keeps the world as new as it was at its creation: a fitting receptacle for its Creator. But how does it do this, how does it reveal the deepest truth of all things, the deepest and “newest” freshness of the world? How does it spark the kind of insight into the mystery of salvation that we find in the above citation from Péguy’s The Mystery of the Charity of Joan of Arc? More, how does it open to us the mystery of God, and thereby cause us to enter into Life? And perhaps most of all, in the face of the difficulty of hope and in the face of that darkness into which the Son of God gave himself, how do we hope? How do we live in hope?
1Le Mystère de la Charité de Jeanne d’Arc (=Jeanne), 392, in Charles Péguy, OEuvres Poétiques Complètes (=OPC) (Éditions Gallimard, 1975). Translations of all French texts, with the exception of The Portal of the Mystery of Hope, are my own.
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