Of all the tasks that come with the responsibility of being representatives of Christ on the planet I think that the hardest ones to practice are faith and hope. To maintain both of these is pretty much a full-time task!
These foundations of the living the example set by Jesus are in the realm of things unseen. Neither can really be measured in any way. Yet both are indispensable elements of Christianity. They are like the wind: you can never see it but you can clearly observe the results it creates.
Faith and hope are clearly the elements of belief that eventually lead us to the ultimate: understanding. But they must be actively practiced; neither simply comes along and “anoints” us. In our material world, the value is placed on the tangible and what we can touch, see, and possess. In our “civilized” society the more stuff you have, the better person you are.
In the struggling and disenfranchised community of the converted Jews in post-crucifixion Jerusalem, the writer of the Book of Hebrews instructs them,
“Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for or prove the existence of realities that at present remain unseen.” (Jer. Bible Heb. 11:1)
The author clearly schools them that their faith and hope are the only two elements that will guarantee their survival as a people. Faith and hope exist within the believer and nowhere else.
In the spiritual life faith and hope are both demands and necessities at the same time. In time ongoing, the coming kingdom that is to be formed (blessings in the passage above) exists in the believer before it is ever manifested in the world.
In the tenth century Gilbert of Holland put it this way, “Faith enfolds, reason upholds, understanding beholds.”
An astute philosopher once observed that we cannot hope for things that we can see. What would be the point to that? But Romans 8:25 teaches us that, “If we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.”
Faith and hope, then, are acts of bravery and spiritual fitness in a world that does not really reward heroic behavior.
The practice of both of these virtues is an action that goes much further than we might imagine toward forming our fitness for the Kingdom. As we struggle to practice faith and hope things happen. Within the milieu of faith and hope we have opportunity for formation in a way that is completely removed from the ordinary.
Faith and hope are a unique opportunity to conquer self. “Faith is a liberation of my ‘I’ from its preoccupation with self that sets me free to respond to the Father to speak the yes of love.” (John Paul II)
Faith and hope are both dynamic forces that shape us as we practice them over and over again. Much like a physical workout, each time we “go to the bench” with faith and hope our spirit is shaped and re-shaped, strengthened and fortified.
Faith also creates irrevocable freedom in a way that you might never have imagined. “Before faith, we were held in custody under the law confined for the faith that was to be revealed [hope]. Consequently, the law was our disciplinarian for Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come we are no longer under a disciplinarian.” (Rm 3:23-28) In a very real way, faith liberates us from the slavery of law.
If it is faith that is guiding us, we are really tuning into the will of the Father and are no longer slaves to every man made statute and whim. This does not excuse us from being law-abiding citizens, but it does liberate us in our thinking and the kind of people we are free to become.
People are defined by the love of the Lord and not by obedience to the world. This has life-changing potential!
Faith and hope are living forces of the Spirit. When we actively seek to practice them we need to be eager and ready to change who we are for a better definition of self.
We need to be very mindful of what Saint Charles Garnier (d.1649) taught: “No matter what we ask from God, he will always surpass our hopes.”
As we work on our practice of faith and hope we need to have a real sense (hope) that our divine destiny is not far off and way over there. It is here and now, a real experience that can be quite personal.
Jesus Christ and God the Father are never not waiting for us to participate with them in the practice of faith and hope. These are the basics and the fruit that we can bring to the world at large and ourselves in particular.
Jesus himself reminds us how potent faith is when he tells the returned leper, “Stand up and go on your way. Your faith has saved you.” (Lk 17:19).
Have faith and give others the divine gift of hope. Remember that as far as hope is concerned, no one can disinherit us from the promise of the joy and glory of heaven without our permission!
Copyright © 2012, Kathryn M. Cunningham