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April 1967

Hope does not deceive (Romans 5:5)

St. Paul wants to reassure us that hope is not a vain, meaningless word. Hope is not the last resource to which we cling when all is lost. It is precisely when we consider this theological virtue in a purely human way , that we lose all understanding of it. It is not the refuge of those who, impelled by internal or external difficulties to the edge of existence, cling to God and men in an agonised search for help. No, hope is not that. Hope does not deceive, not only because the Lord is absolute truth; not only because He reassures us, through an act of faith in His Love and His Divine Justice, that He will keep his promises. Not just that. St. Paul wants us to "feel", not simply to believe that Hope does not deceive. He wants our very being, our ego, to experience what Hope is. In St. Paul's view Christian life is not to remain an exterior theological formula which fails to reach man's interior life. Therefore he describes for us the origins of what we must experience through hope, starting from concrete facts, from real circumstances, circumstances in which each one of us can always find himself and in fact does find himself.

He says: "We must rejoice because we await with hope the future glory of the sons of God". But that is not enough - indeed it would be small comfort, if only in the future were we to find a solution to our immediate problems.

Paul's Christianity is not postponing till some time in the future, the solution of the problems which assail us today. To Paul it seems paltry to think of life like that; and so he adds at once: "and not only this, but we glory also in our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces patience, patience experience and experience hope. Now hope does not deceive us because the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. For, while we were still helpless, Christ died at the right time for the wicked" (Rom. 5:3-6).

In Paul's mind the logical links of the chain of thought are obvious, even if set out back to front: Christ died, while we were helpless; therefore the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with His love, so that when we are tried, "feeling" this love, which is already the Kingdom of God in our hearts, hope springs up, and it does not deceive us because it comes from something that we already possess; this trial, "this experience" to which we submit is the fruit of patience, which in the long 'run must force us to make a choice, and patience is the fruit of the sufferings of our daily living. It is logical, then, for us to glory in our sufferings, since we are rejoicing in the divine life that comes to us from the Cross of Christ. But in St. Paul the description of this process is the other way round, because he presents this truth not as a reasoned argument, but as an "experience" which all Christians can have.

Hence he starts from what we know - suffering - in order to describe all the psychological stages of the Christian soul, wherein it discovers patience, hope without deception, charity, the Cross of Christ in suffering. Afterwards we will, extract from it a theology of hope and charity, but how beautiful and vital is the vision of what theology meant to Paul of Tarsus. It was a truth of experience, it had not become an abstraction to be explained to the faithful to make them believe in something remote and detached from daily life.

In a certain sense, by detaching the "truth" too much from life we do not even present the "truth" of what we affirm; precisely because Christianity is not a mathematical system, but a truth which gives "true life", which explains to us what it means to be men, on this earth, raised up to the life of the Trinity. "In Him was Life, and the Life was the light of men" (John 1:4).

And we need this hope, which we know can not deceive; not only because of all that the theological experts tell us, but because we perceive in the haze of our spiritual lives of faith and charity, that in this hope God who reassures us is already present.

As long as we are on this earth, this security will never be absolute, not because of what God gives us and what we experience of Him, but because of our response to the gift of God. But at the same time as the fear of losing God presents itself and therefore seeks to plunge us back into agony, hope arises like a spring within the soul to reassure us that the Lord is with us and that we must remain calm, faithfully abandoned to Him.

It is the mystery of hope that it gives us assurance, while keeping us in the insecurity that is the essence of our "trial" here below, it gives us peace while leaving us in the fear, that will no longer be "terror" of God, but a filial trust in Him.

May the Lord make us all experience this "hope" which does not deceive.

(Unknown Author)

 

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