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Reaching for Hope … with St. Paul

Reaching for Hope … with St. Paul

I’ve just written a book on hope.

I don’t say that expecting you to nod in understanding; I realize hope is a forgotten virtue. Many people equate hope either with optimism or with wishful thinking. I wanted to get back to the theological virtue of hope, which described when our happiness, all of our desires, are directed toward eternity and heaven.

But I also didn’t want to write a dissertation about hope; there are a lot of great books that do that already. I wanted to write something that people can use, to make it as applicable to everyday life as possible, to look at some of the circumstances a lot of us experience, and offer some practical tools for dealing with them. In almost every situation I can imagine, there’s a way to find hope and step into the virtue.

As I was writing, I was thinking of young adults experiencing these events and situations on their own for the first time. They’re stepping out into the world for the first time, and they may be feeling alone and isolated. I wanted to offer them perspective on some of the things they may expect and encounter, and help them navigate the stress of modern life with the virtue of hope.

I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide this would be a great book to write! I came to it out of 12 years of ongoing youth ministry work, inner-city young-adult ministry work, and preaching to all ages, introducing all sorts of different people to the Gospel. A lot of this book came through my observation that indeed there is nothing new under the sun. Everyone experiences sorrow and hardships. But what I noticed was that with young people, there’s less resilience to difficulties and pain; they’re caught off-guard when they experience it. As adults, we can talk about the unfairness of pain, but we know we can survive. Younger people who are a season or two behind me in life are commonly leveled and devastated when bad things happen.

It took me a while to put my finger on what was happening and figure out how to help. Maybe, I thought, perhaps it’s that we need more hope. Real hope. And we get that from being in a relationship with Jesus. Here we have the worst-case scenario of all time, the crucifixion of Christ… and yet even it ends with the beatific vision. And internalizing that reality can bolster us up and keep us going.

Individuals who have had less life experience tend to think that everything should always go smoothly. Not only that but the world we live in is so interconnected: we know something of what’s going on everywhere, with everyone: politicians, celebrities, friends… Everyone plays a comparison game, seeing how much more “happiness” (travel, experiences, possessions, fame, etc.) other people have, and wanting more for ourselves. We forget that for others, what looks like a bad day to us might be considered amazing by someone else.

With a broader perspective, we could say that we may be having a bad day, but it is just one day that is part of a more important story going back to Jesus and the Cross and culminating in eternity. Then the hurdles of today seem less formidable.

I believe we can learn from Saint Paul. In writing to the Philippians, Paul talks about his conversion in the light of hope. We have to remember that when he was still the man known as Saul, he was an extraordinary person, an accomplished man. He had clout and prestige. He was going places! If we saw Saul today, we’d want to hook our wagon to him; he was someone who got things done.

And then came his amazing conversion, and everything changed. And he looked back on all his years of “going places,” of achievements, and he called them trash. He understood that his accolades and prestige were nothing when compared to knowing Jesus.

We struggle with hope, because we often place our hope in the wrong things: in money, in friendships, in our bank accounts, in family, in health, in the way people perceive us. And those aren’t bad things; but they’re not where we’ll find real joy, and in order to find that real joy, we must place our hope in Christ.

Saul found that out. He’d put his hope in a lot of other places, and then he experiences conversion and his life changes completely. And that’s what happens when we put our hope in Jesus rather than the things of this world: we, too, can be transformed.

Often, we associate Paul with faith rather than hope. And while hope and faith can sometimes be synonymous, there seems to be some confusion between the two. They’re related; maybe they’re even two sides of the same coin. They certainly move and groove together!

I think it’s a matter of perspective. Faith, a virtue infused in baptism, is the substance of hope; hope directs our faith towards the future. Faith and hope have the same object—God—and they work together to push us toward a good and holistic life geared toward heaven and eternal things.

 

By Kris Frank
Image by Luis Ca for Cathopic

 

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New Titles, Living the Faith Today, Miracle of Hope

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