Saturday, September 19, 2009

Virtue for the Wayfarer

I’d like to spend today reflecting on the theological virtue of hope. My thoughts are occasioned by the chapter on hope in a book that I have been using for spiritual reading. The book was written by William Mattison, a Chaminade graduate of the Class of 1989. Bill is now a professor of theology at Catholic University.

In Introducing Moral Theology: True Happiness and the Virtues, Bill describes hope this way: “Hope is a virtue for persons of faith who believe that God invites us to union with God, but who also realize that such union right now is far from complete. . . . The virtue of hope inclines one to yearn for union with God as one’s true destiny, and the source of complete fulfillment. . . . It [hope] also engenders love, since it is through longing for God as our source of fulfillment that we cling in genuine friendship to God and God’s creatures, who share in this fellowship.”

Perhaps I might illustrate the virtue of hope by means of a concrete example taken from one of my annual summertime activities – painting. I’m not talking about canvases, landscapes, and portraits. No, I’m referring to our annual maintenance work around our schools and retreat houses. We paint ceilings, walls, doors and doorframes, fences, concrete floors – just about any surface that needs sprucing up.

In many cases, we’ve painted the same surfaces three and four times since I joined the Society of Mary some thirty-five years ago. In fact, I can think of a few classroom walls that we paint year after year, without fail. No matter how fresh and clean those walls look for the start of school in September, they are covered with ink marks – most of them careless, a few of them deliberate – every June.

Much in the world at large – the macrocosm, if you will – militates against hope and prompts despair. The same can happen in our own little worlds as well, even in matters as small and seemingly insignificant as painting, maintenance, and repair.

Still, we go on repainting and repairing – not in the naïve belief that, this time around, those nasty ink marks wouldn’t dare reappear. No, we repaint and repair because we hope to teach respect for property, respect for one another, and respect for the good things of this earth that God has given us. And we believe that many of our students learn those lessons of mutual respect from our simple witness to maintenance, repair, and manual labor. More than a few get the point – some now, some only years later.

This summer, several of us have had the privilege of helping to renovate a 103-year-old house that Catholic Charities will soon be using to care for unwed mothers and their babies. Many Marianists and lay volunteers – adults and students alike – have contributed their “specialty skills” to the project, from carpentry and plumbing to painting, electrical work, and landscaping.
We have done all this work, not out of some naïve belief that this little, localized project of ours will put an end to abortion in this nation. No, we have done so in order to support those brave young women who have decided to bring their babies into this world, despite all the difficulties involved in an unintended pregnancy. We have done so, not because we think we can change the world, but because we hope to at least make a difference.

Our hope springs from our faith in God and His goodness. His unbounded love for us engenders our love – however imperfect – for all His people.

The Christophers are fond of saying, “Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”
That’s not a bad way to consider the virtue of hope. Hope inspires us to unite our “one candle” with the candles of all the hopeful of this world and, even more, with the source of all goodness and light, the God who is in heaven and at our very side.

With Julian of Norwich, we trust that, in God’s good time, “all shall be well . . . and all manner of things shall be well.” In the meantime, we believe that many things on this earth can be well, if we unite our one candle with millions of others and with the eternal flame of God’s love.
And all of this takes root in what my friend and former student has called the “virtue for the wayfarer,” namely, hope.