My European Reading Challenge this year was going to include novels from my favorite continent to which I wanted to give some time. England was going to be Winston Graham’s Poldark series. Norway was to be a rereading of Sigrid Undset’s Ida Elisabeth or Kristin Lavransdatter.
Instead, 2018 has become the year of spiritual classics.
The tenth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical on the virtue of hope, Spe Salvi, or Saved in Hope, passed in November 2017. (Benedict is German, of Bavarian heritage.) I reread it for the first time in a while.
It requires deep thought to grasp that “hope” in the Christian sense is not optimism or habitual positive thinking, even in a spiritual sense. It’s not choosing to think happy thoughts rather than difficult or sad ones. It’s not merely believing in the possibility of change, or simply an affirmation of one’s reliance on Divine Providence.
Instead, the central point of Benedict’s meditation on the meaning of hope is quite different.
Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only “good news” –the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only “informative” but “performative.” That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known–it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.
This is a paragraph to return to again and again. The ancient Christian writer Tertullian said, “Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” Through hope, we not only wait in faith, but we allow God to make us ready. Hope involves action–it brings things about.
Wrote Pope Benedict: “All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action.”
That’s a thought to keep.