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Part 6: Hope

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The following is the sixth in a seven-part series on the cardinal and theological virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope, and charity:

Being Christian means living with the knowledge that we have a future. We call this "hope" — a beautiful thing that encompasses the next world while vastly improving this one.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines hope thusly:

Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. (1817)

To live in hope is to believe that, with Christ, "the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" (Mt 3:2). The consequences of this proclamation are twofold. First, God has reclaimed us as His own, and He does so with the promise of His triumph over death itself.

What's the catch? Our full embrace of the Beatitudes, which as the Catechism tells us, "trace the path that leads through the trials that await the disciples of Jesus" (1820). The Beatitudes point to the ultimate goal of human existence — a life with God in eternity.

In His preaching of the Beatitudes, found in the opening section of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew (5:3-13), Christ lays out what we can confidently hope for.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:3). The spiritually poor are those who have consciously freed themselves from the trappings of pride. We can hope, we can trust that Christ blesses the poor in spirit with the riches of salvation.

"Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Mt 5:4). Indeed, this fallen world will provide us with reasons to mourn. We will experience and/or witness suffering, oppression, and injustice. Count on it. Our response mustn't be to harden our hearts, but rather to give our hearts over to self-giving love, even at the cost of pain. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, "Christ did not promise an easy life. Those who desire comforts have dialed the wrong number. Rather, He shows us the way to great things, the good, towards an authentic human life."

"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land" (Mt 5:5). Mightier than the sword, meekness is a complex character-compound composed of humility before God and kindness toward fellow man. How meek are we to be? Meek as He — the One who came first as a Child to show His desire for our love, the One who allowed Himself to be tortured and killed on a cross to initiate the renewal of the earth.

"Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied" (Mt 5:6). Indeed, we can hope for the glory of Heaven promised by God to those who conform with His will. And if we stray, we are to get right with God through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Mt 5:7). Indeed, we are called to compassion. As Jesus told Faustina, "I demand from you deeds of mercy, which are to arise out of love for Me. You are to show mercy to your neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to excuse or absolve yourself from it. I am giving you three ways of exercising mercy toward your neighbor: the first — by deed, the second — by word, the third — by prayer. In these three degrees is contained the fullness of mercy, and it is an unquestionable proof of love for Me" (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 742).

"Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God" (Mt 5:8). In short, our heart is to be completely given to the One for whom we were made and by whom we were redeemed: Jesus Christ. As the Director of St. Therese Institute of Faith and Mission, Jim Anderson, likes to say: "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing."

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Mt 5:9) Pope Francis puts it best: "Peacemaking," he said, "calls for courage, much more so than warfare" — the courage "to say yes to encounter and no to conflict; yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity."

But as he knows — as we all know — throughout history, peace has been bought, then sold, then bought again, a tedious tale spun by a fallen people prone to trespassing, prone to carelessness, prone to recklessness. We have cherished peace. We have manhandled it. We have dropped it. We have reassembled it.

But the peacemakers mentioned by Christ in the Beatitudes are those whose principled commitment to peace is first telescoped to their own hearts. Peace begins with us, individually, with the recognition that there is no peace apart from God. Make peace with God and become peacemakers in the pattern of the Prince of Peace Himself.

Lastly, "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mt 5:10-12).

Saint Theresa of Calcutta had this to say in reference to the eighth and final beatitude:

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you've got and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.
"Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

In Christ, the Kingdom of God is at hand. If we have been raised with Christ, we already carry the future in our heart, and in the meantime, look at the good we can accomplish in the present.

As C.S. Lewis put it: "If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next."

View other parts of the 7 Virtues series.

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