Spe Salvi 30: An Infinite Hope

Pope Benedict has taken a circuitous, but edifying route through the true shape of Christian hope with the accompaniment of saints, Augustine, Maximus the Confessor, Paul, John, and even the Psalmist. Here, we return to consider the individual person of today:

30. Let us summarize what has emerged so far in the course of our reflections. Day by day, (a person) experiences many greater or lesser hopes, different in kind according to the different periods of (a) life. Sometimes one of these hopes may appear to be totally satisfying without any need for other hopes. Young people can have the hope of a great and fully satisfying love; the hope of a certain position in their profession, or of some success that will prove decisive for the rest of their lives. When these hopes are fulfilled, however, it becomes clear that they were not, in reality, the whole.

This was the point in the life of Ignatius of Loyola when he found his daydreams of following Jesus and of soldiering and derring-do all gave him initial positive feelings. Thinking of fighting and romance, the glow soon dimmed. But the man found his meditations on the Lord lingered with meaning and the experience of consolation. Hope, in other words. Every human being likely feels it, though most people, even lifelong, devout, dedicated Christians might grasp at the significance.

It becomes evident that (a person) has need of a hope that goes further. It becomes clear that only something infinite will suffice for (her or) him, something that will always be more than (she or) he can ever attain. In this regard our contemporary age has developed the hope of creating a perfect world that, thanks to scientific knowledge and to scientifically based politics, seemed to be achievable. Thus Biblical hope in the Kingdom of God has been displaced by hope in the kingdom of (humankind), the hope of a better world which would be the real “Kingdom of God”. This seemed at last to be the great and realistic hope that (humanity) needs. It was capable of galvanizing—for a time—all (human) energies. The great objective seemed worthy of full commitment. In the course of time, however, it has become clear that this hope is constantly receding. Above all it has become apparent that this may be a hope for a future generation, but not for me.

The Church may be partly at fault here. Leaders present God as the head of an institution. The same kinds of things in the world that give initial confidence can also fade within the faith community. New churches, new schools, new programs–things with the best intention, the best objectives, the holiest of backgrounds.

I write this as a person at a parish longing to build a first worship center and meeting space. The project gives parishioners hope. And I certainly support it. But it won’t solve the search for meaning. We could find that in a storefront, on a street corner, or in a field with a tent–assuming we were faithful to the call of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit. The things of science are tools for living. The Christian utilizes things like the internet for the good of the mission, not for the flashiest website with the highest hit counts. The material things of the Church–buildings, musical instruments, artwork, offices, and office supplies–these are also tools. They give no real hope, just a means of assisting others in the community of life to encounter them.

Pope Benedict picks up on the notion of community and wraps up his thought:

And however much “for all” may be part of the great hope—since I cannot be happy without others or in opposition to them—it remains true that a hope that does not concern me personally is not a real hope. It has also become clear that this hope is opposed to freedom, since human affairs depend in each generation on the free decisions of those concerned. If this freedom were to be taken away, as a result of certain conditions or structures, then ultimately this world would not be good, since a world without freedom can by no means be a good world.

We don’t give up on freedom and progress, but we recognize there is a water that will sustain us and that we will never thirst again.

Hence, while we must always be committed to the improvement of the world, tomorrow’s better world cannot be the proper and sufficient content of our hope. And in this regard the question always arises: when is the world “better”? What makes it good? By what standard are we to judge its goodness? What are the paths that lead to this “goodness”?

This document is Copyright © 2007 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. You can find the full document online here.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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