Words of Spirituality
by ENZO BIANCHI
Homo viator, spe erectus: it is hope that keeps us on our feet and walking forward, and that makes us capable of facing the future
In his Commentary on the Psalms (118:15:7), Hilary of Poitiers repeats a question that was being addressed to Christians by many of his contemporaries: "Christians, where is your hope?” Today, Christians and their churches should realize that this question is still being addressed directly to them. If it sometimes contains tones of self-sufficiency or scepticism, this matters little: Christians know that hope is their responsibility! They are called to give an answer to anyone who asks for a reason for their hope: ("Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you," 1 Peter 3:15). Today this responsibility has become a crucial one. It is one of the critical challenges the church faces: is the church able to open up vistas of meaning? Does it know how to let its hope for the coming of the Kingdom, which was the hope of Christ, be the source of its life? Does it know how to give hope and the possibility of a future to concrete, personal lives, and show that it is worth living and dying for Christ? Is the church able to call people to a life that is filled with beauty, happiness, and meaning because it is filled with hope, as was the life of Jesus of Nazareth? These questions cannot be evaded, today in particular when our cultural horizons seem to close us within the present, making it difficult for us to come up with long-term hopes that are capable of sustaining us over the course of our lifetime.
In our "society of uncertainty" (insightfully described by Zygmunt Bauman), in a moment of history in which we continue to talk about the 'end' (of the century, the millennium, modernity, ideologies, the Christian world), in a time in which time is fragmented, and in which even the few hopes that manage to express themselves in society are irreparably short-term and fail to take root, because they are refuted as soon as they are set forth - in such a time, the question "What can we hope for?" has become extremely urgent. It is striking to note how, in the church, the attention given to the beginning of the new millennium is accompanied by a distressing inability to open pathways toward the future. The church seems unable to show that there are concrete ways to live in hope and to work toward a meaningful future, and in particular, it does not seem to know how to offer hope or be present in a meaningful way to those for whom the future is on the immediate horizon - young adults. It seems that the enemy of hope today is indifference, which we can trace to a sense of lack of meaning, or even a sense of the irrelevance of meaning. Even the emphasis in today’s pastoral environments on charitable and volunteer activities has, in addition to many positive aspects, a tendency to limit the attention of Christians to the present, at times making it difficult for them to look beyond what needs to be done today to help those in need. Many of those who participate in charitable and volunteer work make only a short-term commitment that can be withdrawn at any time and that does not engage their future.
It is in front of situations such as these that we should remember the question, "Christians, where is your hope?" The theological virtue of hope must be expressed in a visible, concrete and lasting way in a concrete place; otherwise, it becomes illusion and rhetoric! An interesting passage of Augustine tells us that "Only hope makes us Christians" (The City of God 6:9:5). In other words, our experiences as Christians are not new or different in themselves, but hope leads us to invest our experiences, our relationships, and all of reality with a new and different meaning. Defining hope is not difficult; what is difficult is actually living in hope! Certainly, we can call hope an "active struggle against desperation" (G. Marcel) and "the capacity for intense activity not yet expended,” (E. Fromm), but hope is above all what allows us to walk on the pathway of life, to be human - we cannot live if we do not hope! Homo viator, spe erectus: it is hope that keeps us on our feet and walking forward, and that makes us capable of facing the future. Christians find their hope in Christ ("Christ Jesus, our hope," 1 Timothy 1:1) - in other words, they find in Christ the ultimate meaning that illuminates all realities and relationships. In this sense, Christian hope is a powerful reservoir of spiritual energy, a dynamic element grounded in faith in Christ, who died and is risen from the dead. Christ's victory over death is the source of the believer’s hope that evil and death, in all of the forms in which they appear in human life, will not have the last word.
Christians share their hope with others through forgiveness, which conveys the message that no fault committed has the power to close the door to the future of a life. They also communicate their hope by living among others in a way that expresses their faith that God wills the salvation of all people, as the Paschal event makes clear (1 Timothy 2:4, 4:10; Titus 2:11). Most importantly, Christians communicate their hope by living according to the logic of the Paschal event. This is the 'logic' that makes it possible for Christians to live in community with people they did not choose themselves, and it also makes them capable of loving even their enemies, those who are difficult to love, and those who express hostility towards them. It is Paschal logic that leads Christians to endure hardships, trials and suffering with joy and serenity, and it is what guides them toward giving their lives - that is, toward martyrdom. If we want to see an authoritative narration of Christian hope in the church today, it is toward situations of martyrdom and persecution that we should look. There the hope of eternal life, of life in Christ beyond death, finds a mysterious, disquieting, yet extremely concrete and convincing narration. There Augustine’s words become credible: "Now our life is hope; then it will be eternity" (Commentary on the Psalms 103:4:17).