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The Theological Virtues — Hope

December 29, 2018 Our Catholic Faith No Comments


As we continued our treatment of the theological virtue of faith in last week’s installment by looking at vices and sins opposed to this unmerited gift, which Christoph Cardinal Schönborn describes as “the gateway to divine life” (Living the Catechism of the Catholic Church [vol. 3], p. 46), we saw that unbelief is a most grave sin.
In A Tour of the Summa, Msgr. Paul J. Glenn illuminates this teaching by stating that unbelief “severs a man completely from God and falsifies his very notion of God” (p. 193). Especially grave are sins which involve the rejection of what has already been received (e.g., formal heresy, apostasy). Truly, as Sacred Scripture attests, “without faith it is impossible to please him [God]” (Heb. 11:6a).
To close our consideration of the first of the theological virtues, let us reflect on the teaching of Fr. Jordan Aumann, OP, on sure ways that faithful followers of Christ can nourish and strengthen the gift of faith in order to not lose or corrupt it.
Practices he enthusiastically endorses include: 1) foster an interior realization that faith is a gift (see Eph. 2:8) and constantly implore the Lord for grace to fortify it; 2) forcefully reject doubts and temptation against faith, avoid dangerous literature that promotes worldly or anti-Christian values (e.g., New Age beliefs and practices), and resist all forms of intellectual pride (see 1 Peter 5:5); 3) read and study Scripture and Catholic doctrine, the lives of the saints, etc.; and 4) set aside time for daily prayer and make devout acts of faith throughout the day (cf. Spiritual Theology [SpT], pp. 250-251).
These upright practices apply to all who are intent upon living a virtuous Christian life, even beginners. There is much more, however, for Fr. Aumann goes on to recommend additional behaviors to be adopted by those who are more advanced in the spiritual life: 5) set aside self-love in all its forms, both in times of consolation and desolation, prosperity and adversity; 6) evaluate all things in reference to the teachings of faith, while renouncing worldly criteria and purely human points of view; and 7) embrace all trials and sufferings allowed by God in a spirit of joy with a firm conviction that it is a privilege to share the lot of our Lord, for “on those He loves with a love of predilection He lavishes His crosses as the most certain mark of His tenderness” (St. Thérèse of Lisieux: General Correspondence, volume two, LT 178, p. 909).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) next considers the theological virtue of hope, which it defines as the infused 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” (n. 1817).
Similarly, but in slightly different terms, Fr. Aumann defines hope as “the theological virtue infused by God into the will by which we trust with complete certitude in the attainment of eternal life and the means necessary for reaching it, assisted by the omnipotent help of God” (SpT, p. 258). The primary object of our hope is union with God; the secondary object consists in all those means which lead to that goal.
Before proceeding, important to understand is that the virtues of faith and hope are intimately related. Hope grows out of faith, for we can hope in God only if we first “believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6b). In other words, it is not possible to possess the virtue of hope unless one believes in God’s Word and His fidelity.
In common usage in the English language, hope is defined as “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best” ( As we saw in an earlier installment on the morality of the passions (see volume 150, n. 45; November 9, 2017), hope on the natural level is an emotion by which we desire something that is arduous to obtain. As such, explains St. Thomas Aquinas, the object of the passion of hope is “a future good, difficult but possible to obtain” (Summa Theologiae [STh] II-II, Q. 17, art. 1).
Human hope is not necessarily a virtue. Although it might sometimes be virtuous, it can often happen that one’s natural desires are misplaced, naive, or even imprudent. Moreover, even if the object of our hope is a true good, one might employ immoral means in its pursuit (i.e., the end does not justify the means).
As an example of misdirected hope, consider a person who uses his entire hard-earned paycheck to purchase as many lottery tickets as possible in the hope of winning millions of dollars. Then, when someone else claims the jackpot, the reckless risk-taker is unable to make his mortgage payment.
Theological hope, on the other hand, is not a feeling; it is an assurance. It aims at union with God, through God’s aid. It is the confident desire and expectation of attaining eternal happiness if one is faithful and cooperates with the grace of God.
“Supernatural [theological] hope,” explains Fr. Kenneth Baker, SJ, “is certain because it is based on the goodness and promises of God; it is reasonable because of the power of God to do what he says he will do. Hope is supernatural because the desired good, the face-to-face vision of God, is supernatural, and it is necessary because heaven is man’s ultimate end” (Doctrinal Sermons on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, p. 14).
Since the end is supernatural, Fr. Baker emphasizes, the means to that end must also be supernatural; they “must come from God who is their only source” (ibid., p. 13). Classified under means (the secondary object of hope), explains Fr. Aumann, are the goods of this world. However, this is true “only to the extent that they can be useful to us for salvation” (SpT, p. 258). In fact, the Angelic Doctor says that “we ought not to pray to God for any other goods, except in reference to eternal happiness” (STh II-II, Q. 17, art. 2, ad 2).
As Holy Week approaches, it would be good to reflect on how often we fall short in that regard, how often we ask God in prayer for things that have only a passing, temporal value.
Does Sacred Scripture provide a basis for our hope? In the same paragraph in which it defines hope, the Catechism cites such a verse: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23). St. Paul, in his Letter to Titus, gives us a similar assurance when he states that it was “in virtue of his own mercy…poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7).
Likewise, in the Gospel of St. Matthew we are told: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you….If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:7, 11). The “good things” promised by Jesus are precisely those we ask for in the act of hope.
“The virtue of hope,” the Catechism goes on to say, “responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven” (CCC, n. 1818).
The connection to a paragraph that was cited as this series began in 2012 is clear (see volume 145, n. 18; May 3, 2012): “Man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to Himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC, n. 27). This, in turn, is reminiscent of St. Augustine’s famous quotation: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you” (Confessions, book 1, chapter 1).

Heavenly Glory

How, then, does hope protect us? As explained by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ, “it protects us from discouragement, sustains us in our abandonment by creatures, and rejoices our heart in anticipation of the heavenly glory that awaits us” (The Faith, p. 163).
“Buoyed up by hope,” teaches the Catechism, “[man] is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity” (CCC, n. 1818).
As the Apostle to the Gentiles proclaims in his Letter to the Romans, we are given the strength to “rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, [and] persevere in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
In a superb volume of meditations on the interior life entitled Divine Intimacy, Fr. Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD, beautifully reflects on the incalculable worth of the supernatural virtue of hope. As we close this installment, let us prayerfully consider an excerpt from his masterpiece:
“We look at the infinite God who is perfect and immensely higher than ourselves, a weak, miserable creature, and we wonder: How can I reach Him and be united with Him, who is so infinitely beyond my capacity? And hope replies: You can, for God Himself wishes it; it was for this reason that He created you and raised you to the supernatural state, giving you all the help necessary for such an arduous undertaking” (p. 735).

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(Don Fier serves on the board of directors for The Catholic Servant, a Minneapolis-based monthly publication. He and his wife are the parents of seven children. Fier is a 2009 graduate of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology. He is a Consecrated Marian Catechist.)

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