The Meaning of Hope

“There is close connection between hope and hopes, but we must not confuse the two.”  Brother David Stendl-Rast OSB writes in his book, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, “We set our hopes on something we imagine.  But Hope is open for the unimaginable.”

Some thirty years ago, I heard Brother David speak at a retreat that was dedicated to the theological virtues.  Before that day, I thought I knew what Hope was.  After hearing him,  I had a completely new understanding.

“Hope is what remains, after every single hope that we have is completely crushed.”  That took my breath away.  As Brother David explained, Jesus perfectly demonstrates what true Hope is from the Cross.  Despite  great agony and darkness, Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father.

” Father, into your hands I commend my spirit!”   -Luke 23:46

Jesus shows  what Hope is

Thus, the door was opened to the Resurrection.

Optimism is not synonymous with Hope, though it is often thought to be.  Once again, Brother David;

“Optimism and pessimism are equally unrealistic.  Neither optimists nor pessimists are much concerned with reality, only with holding their party line.  Optimism and pessimism pretend.  But Hope shows concern.”

So what is exactly is Hope?  Stendl-Rast says, ” Hope is an aspect of God’s very life within us.  Hope is openness to surprise.  And “Surprise” is a name for God… Pure hope expects the surprise that even if the worst happens, it will be the best.”

My experience bears this out.  So many times in life, I have been disappointed when my expectations have not been met.  Yet Hope, which reveals itself in patient waiting, has been my anchor.  In fact, the anchor was a very early Christian symbol for hope;

” … we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to hold fast to the hope that lies before us.  This we have as an anchor of the soul…” -Hebrews 6:18-19

I’m not forgetting that Hope, as Christians know it, points to the afterlife.  This is the ultimate consolation that we have as followers of Jesus.  For in heaven, “every tear will be wiped dry.” (Rev. 21:4)

” Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it entered into our minds, what God has ready for those who love him.”   -1 Cor. 2:9

At the same time, I strive to remain open to the ever-unfolding wonders of this life.  Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Risen Jesus is present in my life now. (Rom. 8:11).  This fills my heart with peace and joy and empowers me to share His transformative truth with others.

We live in an age where it is a struggle to hope.  Or rather, if we fundamentally misunderstand the meaning of Hope, then it will be difficult to have peace and joy.  For we will confuse hopes with Hope.

St. Paul understood quite clearly the meaning of Hope.

St Paul
His Resurrection is our Hope

“… and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”   -Romans 5:5