Sunday, December 02, 2007

We are a People of Hope

Pope Benedict's newest Encyclical letter (New Encyclical: For in this hope we were saved (Spe salvi facti sumus)), the second of his pontificate, explore the virtue of Hope. It is, in many ways, well timed for advent and the current state of our world. As I read through it I was continually struck with the realization as to how much hope is at the very heart of Christian living.

The pope writes:

Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only “good news”—the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only “informative” but “performative”. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.

Hope is the very heart of our faith. We are an Easter people. And what is being described above, if not the triumph over death and sin that is the hope of Easter. But we are also an Advent people…waiting and expecting the joy of Christmas. The arrival of the Savior.

But what the Pope writes about goes beyond that…he writes of an active hope. A hope that is, as he says, “performative”. In reality it is transformative…transfiguring. He says:

We have raised the question: can our encounter with the God who in Christ has shown us his face and opened his heart be for us too not just “informative” but “performative”—that is to say, can it change our lives, so that we know we are redeemed through the hope that it expresses?

But this hope…this living, performative, transformative and transfiguring hope is known by a name…a person. Drawing on St. Gregory Nazianzan the pope writes:

He says that at the very moment when the Magi, guided by the star, adored Christ the new king, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ.2 This scene, in fact, overturns the world-view of that time, which in a different way has become fashionable once again today. It is not the elemental spirits of the universe, the laws of matter, which ultimately govern the world and mankind, but a personal God governs the stars, that is, the universe; it is not the laws of matter and of evolution that have the final say, but reason, will, love—a Person. And if we know this Person and he knows us, then truly the inexorable power of material elements no longer has the last word; we are not slaves of the universe and of its laws, we are free.

A person. As faith is an encounter with a Person. Christ. God. A Person who loves us beyond all human understanding. The cause of our Hope.

There is much more to the Pope’s new Encyclical and I have not finished it yet. But as we move toward Christmas and now into Advent…It is good to remember that we are:

An Easter People
An Advent People
A people of Hope

May we prepare our hearts.

No comments: