Natural and Supernatural Hope
A life without the Lord is a life without hope that comes from God. Today’s readings remind us that a relationship with God is not optional in our lives if we truly want a blessed life.
In today’s First Reading the prophet Jeremiah describes the importance of a relationship with the Lord in terms of favorable conditions for growth and unfavorable ones. The example of the barren bush teaches that trust and hope in human beings and the flesh at the expense of trust and hope in God is ultimately a lessor life that just limps along full of discouragement, despair, and disappointment. It is an arid life, compounded by the fact that human beings and the flesh are ultimately mortal, broken and weakened from sin. Putting our trust exclusively in the structures, things and people of this world can only lead to disunity and chaos in this world. Conversely, trust and hope in the Lord changes your life dramatically: it doesn’t mean we won’t experience poverty, persecution, pain, sorrow and death… but it does mean even in the midst of the real challenges of living, we can be at peace, joy filled, blessed.
In today’s Second Reading Paul affirms that a life without the Christ is ultimately a life of futility, because a life with the Lord is a life redeemed and transformed by the Resurrection into a life of hope. Paul is shocked when he hears Christians deny that the Resurrection happened. He teaches them that if Christ didn’t rise from the dead, there could be no real hope and no reason to hope. If Christ did not conquer death in the Resurrection, he did not conquer sin either, and we remain in a sinful life that is as finite, fleeting, and arid as the bleak desert bush of today’s First Reading.
Christ has risen from the dead, the “first fruits” for those who believe. He has conquered sin and death not only for himself but for those who believe in him. Redeemed by him, we too will rise from the dead to new life. Not only that, but we will live in freedom in this world without fear of evil, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. However, that requires turning to him for redemption, daily if necessary. In today’s Gospel, we hear Luke’s account of the Beatitudes. The reward of living them and the consequences of ignoring them. The well-placed plant in today’s First Reading stays green during heat waves and fruitful during droughts: it draws on a deeper source that is undiminished by adverse conditions. The Christian who draws from hope in God, hope in the promises God makes, draws from something undiminished by poverty, hunger, sorrow, or persecution. Life rooted in Christ gives us the fullness of life through faith, with hope, in love, if we receive and let flourish that which God offers us.
Luke’s account also recalls Our Lord’s warning to those who would put their hope and trust in other things, like the barren plant of today’s First Reading. Those who trust in riches, a full belly, a perpetual good time, and the flattery of others, separated from Our Lord, will find how fleeting and ultimately unsatisfying those things truly are in comparison to what Our Lord offers: a resilient life that thrives and blossoms in eternity.
The readings today lay out before us a question about in whom or in what is our hope rooted. Are we living with supernatural hope or natural hope? Is there a difference? We have all learned that the most important virtues are the ones that God gives us when we become members of the Body of Christ, the Church. God gives them to help us ensure the free-flowing grace of God, the theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. Through prayer, the sacraments, and our own efforts, they grow to maturity and fruitfulness as wisdom, joy, peace, courage, and patience. Those fruits of the Spirit in turn help us to fulfill our life-mission, which is to follow Christ and help others do the same.
Let’s talk about supernatural hope and natural hope. Natural hope might keep us going for a while, but the supernatural hope will lift and sustain us through life into our eternal reward. Supernatural Hope is the theological 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 only on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." "The Holy Spirit . . . he 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." Catechism of the Catholic Church #1817
In the next paragraph we read, that ‘the virtue of hope 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; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity. Catechism of the Catholic Church #1818
So, hope is the active, confident desire for heaven to which St Paul referred in today's Second Reading "If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all." St. Thomas Aquinas noted that hope is born from the desire for something good that is “difficult but possible to attain.” There is no need for hope if we can easily get what we want, but neither is there any reason to hope when what we desire is completely beyond our grasp. In 2007 Pope Benedict “The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life” Spe Salve No. 2. Hope empowers us to live differently because a Christian understanding of hope is rooted in the unshakable conviction that God loves us and wants our good, a fact memorably exclaimed by Paul’s declaration in Romans: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31 To live with hope is to take those words to heart and to allow that knowledge to change our lives in creative and surprising ways.
A human being cannot live without hope. But when we ignore or neglect supernatural hope, we start replacing it with merely natural hope. We start thinking that the right political and economic policies will solve everyone’s problems. That is dangerous, because it's false; we live in a fallen world; it will never be heaven; it will always remain the steep and difficult path to heaven. We will end up thinking that we deserve perfect happiness here on earth.
Fr. Blair Gaynes has been in the Diocese since 2008.