SACRED HEART OF JESUS / IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY
FOUNTAIN OF ALL HOPES / MOTHER OF HOPE
The new Encyclical Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI - "SPE SALVI" (SAVED IN HOPE) is a timely source of inspiration not only to Christians but to all of humanity.
An initial gem of inspiration is the assurance of our anchor of hope in Christ, who is presented on ancient stone coffins as philosopher (one who teaches us the art of living and dying - i.e., He tells us "who man truly is and what a man must do in order to be truly human') ... and as shepherd (our guide and companion in verdant pastures and even in death).
Several other inspirational passages and assurances of strength in the face of solitude and helplessness present themselves in the Holy Father's same Encyclical. For instance: Faith is closely linked to perseverance - "Knowing how to wait, while patiently enduring trials" - to enable the believer to "received what is promised" (Heb 10:36).
As Christians, we believe that our life will not end in emptiness. As God has revealed Himself in His Son, who has assumed our human nature, so through Christ's teaching and example in His life on earth, we have been given an idea of life hereafter - something that will eventually be ours - something we can hope and live for.
This reminder can well be a source of encouragement particularly to people who may have been disillusioned by the mismatch of their idealism and reports of perpetrated widespread corruption and injustice. It appears that trials of disgruntled members of government or of our society in general, as well as of countless others who are struggling desperately for a "decent living" are simply unbearable. Hence, for want of patience in the face of trials, visions have been blurred, hopes have been shaken, and not a few have been sadly pushed or forced to resort to means which are not justified by their righteous ends.
"To continue living for ever - endlessly - appears more like a curse than a gift. ... But to live always, without end can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable."
Can one imagine just how life would be in advanced age - bereft of the energy of youth which, by then, will have been replaced by increased dependence on the assistance of others, general debility, loneliness, abandonment in a home for the aged, etc.? Surely, the quality of such life by then would have been so greatly depreciated that to continue living this earthly life no longer becomes a favored option.
Because man suffers the burden of the wretchedness in unremitting labor and unbearable sorrow due to the consequences of sin in his human life, we are taught that death comes as a limit to what evil entails - to "restore what life had forfeited." It is in this connection that, with the hope for relief and satisfaction in the hereafter, St. Ambrose is quoted to have said: "Death is, then, no cause for mourning, for it is the cause of mankind's salvation."
In spite of our paradoxical attitude towards not wanting to die and not wanting to continue living indefinitely but helplessly, the Encyclical cites St. Augustine's and St. Paul's letters with which they remind us to realize that "there must be something we do not know towards which we feel driven."
What drives us then to hope? What does our faith lead us to expect? Our Christian faith has taught us that salvation is offered to us by God in Jesus, our Savior. We will enjoy salvation in full, however, only in the life to come, and depending on how faithfully we shall have lived in conformity with the teachings and examples of Jesus.
"Man's great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God . . . Whoever is moved by love begins to perceive what life really is. He begins to perceive the meaning of hope."
We have indeed many hopes in life - great and noble, small and ordinary - such as finishing one's studies, getting a good paying job, success in a chosen profession, a happy family, etc. Once actualized, however, these still do not seem to be the end of everything. Something else still remains desired to be attained ... until we are led to nurture a relationship with Him, who is the Source of life and love. Only "if we are in relation with Him who does not die, who is Life itself and Love itself," can we truly live.
"Our relationship with God is established through communion with Jesus. He draws us into His 'being for all.' He commits us to live for others . . ."
Salvation is not to be desired for oneself alone. Each of us, instead, is challenged and expected to help others attain salvation as well; we are truly one another's keepers. As "Christ died for all, to live for Him means allowing oneself to be drawn into His being for others."
"When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me, When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, He can help me."
What wealth of encouragement this offers, especially for those abandoned and seemingly forgotten in their old age, retirement, confinement in a nursing home, imprisonment, etc.!
"By delaying what we are praying for, God strengthens our desire; through desire, He enlarges our soul and by expanding it, He increases its capacity for receiving Him."
Delay in having our favors granted is definitely not an indication that God does not answer our prayers. Rather, it is an opportunity for desire as well as persistence in prayer. With perseverance, we increase our patience and come to realize that God always answers our prayers - though His answers may sometimes be "Wait; not yet" or . . . "No that's not the best for you."
"God wishes to fill you with honey a symbol of God's tenderness and goodness: but if you are full of vinegar, where will you put the honey?"
This should remind us to be ready for some kind of internal/personal purification. We cannot have space for the good that we shall be happy to have God bless us with if our heart is full of bitterness. This bitterness simply has to go ... if only to give way for the love God is eager to shower us with.
"Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me."
Hope-filled faith in a loving, merciful, and forgiving God is indeed a great consolation for a sinner who longs to be pardoned and saved. With such faith, we have no need to deceive ourselves or helplessly justify our wrongdoings for which we are held accountable in spite of the "numbness of our conscience."
HOPE IN ACTION
The certainty of an indestructible power of Love enables one to "continue to hope even if there seems to be nothing left to hope for." Of course, this great power of Love, from which we draw the courage to be constant in our efforts in spite of seeming hopelessness, refers to no other than God Himself, the fountain of all our Hopes.
"The Kingdom of God is a gift . . . it constitutes the response to our hope."
Precisely, because Heaven offers more than what our good works can deserve, it is a gift made available to us ... a gift we are all invited to hope for.
"It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it, and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love."
As a curse inflicted by the fall of Adam and Eve on our human nature, suffering has come to be an inevitable part of life. Through the centuries, human efforts and the genius of man have continued to find ways and means of trying to alleviate suffering. However, to eliminate it altogether is definitely not within our human power because such power is exclusively God's.
Instead of trying to avoid pain or even cursing suffering, we should believe in our God-given capacity for accepting it and enduring it in union with Christ's sufferings. Thus, suffering is a means of purification as it is also an opportunity to hope and to grow in maturity.
". . . in all human suffering we are joined by the One who experiences and carries that suffering with us . . ."
With the thought that with God's compassionate love, we are actually never alone in our suffering: the light of hope shines.
Related to making our suffering meaningful "through union with Christ" is the practice of a daily morning offering of all our disappointments, irritation, pain, and suffering for the day as our modest share in the great suffering endured by our Redeemer. All of our sufferings put together - compared to His - are but tiny splinters that should be bearable. There is likewise, consolation in believing our trials and difficulties to be a sign of the Lord's acknowledgment of, and confidence in, our capacity to suffer with Him.
Every time we pray the Apostles' Creed, we remind ourselves that Christ "will come in glory to judge the living and the dead." Actually such profession of faith is an appeal to our conscience - a call to our culpability - as well as it is an expression of hope in God's justice and mercy.
"The judgment of God is hope, both because it is justice and because it it grace." If it were justice alone, then our last judgment would easily evoke fear of the consequences of our sins, Fortunately, "Grace allows us all to hope" and hopefully proceed to meet our Judge who is also our "Advocate." (Jn 2:1)
With the inspiration of these random gems picked out from the Holy Father's second Encyclical comes a concluding challenge and question every Christian should ask "What can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise?"
The Encyclical concludes with: "Who more than Mary, could be a star of hope for us?" As Her loving children then, let us pray that with the powerful intercession of Mary, our Mother of Hope, we may all find the way to the Kingdom of God.
CECILIA G. VALMONTE
The Messenger of Divine Love
Volume II Number 2