What To Hope For
Advent is the Season of Hope. Through its biblical prayers and readings, the Church re-lives the historical period from humanity’s fall from grace to the promise of a Savior and its fulfillment. For us who live after the historical coming of the Savior and look forward to the Savior’s final victory, we are challenged to make clear what we really hope for.
I vividly recall a question by a participant in an introductory course in Christianity I was giving. I had been talking about having hope and being saved rather abstractly, basically parroting the teaching without any of my own personalization. A young woman asked: “Saved from what?” I had no answer. Now as I think about it, a good answer would have been: “Saved from despair.” Advent is the Season of Hope in which we come to understand not only what salvation is and how we are saved, but also what it is we are saved from.
I would be more than dishonest if I said that I hoped for anything more right now than an end to the pandemic COVID-19. I’m tired of wearing a mask, tired of seeing other people, places, and situations as threatening to infect me, and tired of being tired of COVID-19. But does such a hope have a place in Advent, the Season of Hope? Does it have any relationship to salvation and Christian hope?
Hoping for an end to the pandemic can simply seem to rehash the unsolvable problem of evil. Where does it come from? How can an all-powerful and all-loving God allow it? The Book of Wisdom (1:13) warns us not to go down that path: “God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.” The current pandemic is just one of many paths leading to death. It is a vivid reminder that all diseases, illnesses, accidents, and so on, all those things we wish to avoid, are all connected to the final act of death, which is why we need to be saved from despair.
Prayer of Hope
How can we hope when faced with the inevitability of death and all the “minuses” in life which lead up to it? No matter how much we pray and hope to avoid death and all that leads up to it, that hope will not be realized. To answer this question, I have often been consoled by the prayer of St Claude la Columbière, the Jesuit who accompanied St Margaret Mary Alacoque when she had received revelations concerning the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Here are his words of hope.
My God, I believe most firmly that you watch over all who hope in you and that we can want for nothing when we rely upon you in all things. Therefore, I am resolved for the future to have no anxieties, and to cast all my cares upon you. … Let others seek happiness in their wealth, in their talents. Let them trust in the purity of their lives, the severity of their mortifications, in the number of their good works, the fervor of their prayers. As for me, O my God, in my very confidence lies all my hope.”
I think St Claude’s prayer answers my question about whether hoping for an end to the pandemic has a place in Advent, the Season of Hope. I think his answer tells us that when we hope in the face of the inevitable, we are hoping in Hope itself. Jesus Is Hope itself. To hope for the end to the pandemic is to place our confidence in Hope itself.
by Fr. Jerry Cusumano, S.J.