Father Jonathan’s blog of a week ago was on the subject of ‘Hope’.  Quite unwittingly, in a sense, he ‘hit the same note’, because what follows was on ‘stand-by’ in the blog ‘pipeline’.  However, this virtue really is worth the concentration of two different efforts – different in that they arrive at the subject from two quite separate standpoints – both emphasising the importance of HOPE in the world today.  Our world is one largely of negativity as regards God and all that He promises, therefore, largely in despair and woefully deficient in the blessings that HOPE can bring. 

In my quieter, more reflective moments at home, I often resort to a recording of Chopin’s 1st Piano Concerto, taken from an International Piano Competition, held at Leeds, a year or two ago.  The recording is of a young Italian pianist, Alessandro Taverna, and his playing of this famous concerto, in my view, was superb.  Just before he came onto the platform to play, there was a short introduction to the piece by one of the great pianists of our time, Christina Ortiz, and she describes Chopin’s mood, mental state, as he wrote one of the passages in the 1st movement, as desperate.  She says that Chopin was, at that point, very unhappy, having just fallen in love, in Warsaw.  Then just a little later, in the same movement, Christina, goes on to reflect on a similar piano passage, and here she says that Chopin’s attitude was one of “… I don’t know … one of blissful HOPE, happiness, I think … the genius of Chopin.” 

From this, it seems that Chopin’s mood, within a fairly short time-frame, had gone from crestfallen despair, that his love affair was failing, to one of hope that things would turn out ‘right in the end’, and, I think there is little doubt, that this change of mood is to be heard in the lyricism of the pianistic writing. So what, then, can we read into the meaning of this four-letter word…HOPE

I think, essentially that there are two aspects to this emotional state of mind … 1) that we have not yet achieved that which we would like to achieve … and 2) that with hope … we will achieve that happier state of mind, at some future time in our lives.  Hope seems to promote the belief in a positive outcome, to the events and circumstances in one’s life.  With ‘hope; we can look forward with confidence that ‘things will turn out for the better’, and in all of this, there are common feelings of future anticipation … future expectation … future desire … future happiness.  As Alexander Pope wrote: “Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blest: …” (An Essay on Man).

An Allegory of Hope – Francesco Guardi (1747) 

That, I think, is hope in the ‘ordinary’ sense – in the ordinary use of the word.  But, to Christians, (and those of most other religions) there is undoubtedly, a much deeper meaning to this concept.  Within this context, it is very much tied up with that other important virtue … the virtue of FAITH … faith in the existence of a loving and merciful God, Our Father, who cares for us in an infinite and bountiful way … from which HOPE leads us to trust, unquestionably, in the promises He and His Son, have given us … and this hope, gives us that ‘reflection in the mirror’, showing us where we are today – then goes on to shows us that, with hope, there will be a favourable outcome to our lives, under God’s guidance.  It gives us confidence that, if we try to love God, and keep His word, He will be ‘there for us’ at the end, and that, really, there is no need for us to worry. Hope gives us a sense of ‘certainty’ and a ‘positive’ expectation of our reward in heaven – if we do what God expects of us – in our lives here on earth.  It is, of course, one of the three Theological Virtues, of Faith, Hope and Love, the greatest of these being love. 

Christina Ortiz describes Chopin, as desperate, at one point in his ‘love life’, and here, desperate – in a state of despair – is the operative word.  Despair – the total absence of hope – in ordinary life, would mean that, from a standpoint of unhappiness, negativity and unrewarding actions, there would be no enlightening horizon, no prospect of improvement, no chance of future betterment, no promise of future happiness.  Just think about this, and the prospect is one of a never-ending darkness, and, because such feelings are so often ones of self-rewarding, self-generating magnification, they would assume gigantic proportions, devolving thereto, into never-ending downward spiral and total nightmare.  But, then to apply the same reasoning to despair, as applied, in a theological way, this would inevitably lead to conclusions that denied the existence of God, God’s goodness, God’s mercy, God’s love and forgiveness.  What an awful outlook, that must be! 

Thank God, we are given the promise of a bright future – for God gave us his Son, to suffer and die for us on the Cross, to rise again on the third day and to enable us to rise with him, to be with him, one day, as He sits by His Father’s side in heaven.                 

From the writer C.S. Lewis, a non-believer who later became a devout Catholic, the following extracts may help us to understand a little more: 

“ … If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  … If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only … to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, echo, or mirage. … I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to the other country and to help others do the same.” 

In this passage, he speaks clearly of earthly hope and hope in the divine.  He also warns of the dangers of false hope – hopes that have their beginnings, and endings, in all that is temporal.  May God grant that we should always have hope – hope that is both temporal and spiritual.  And, again here, whilst the former is laudable, the accent must be on the latter, for what we are fundamentally concerned with is hope for that better life, that life with God. 

I remember, well, the words of advice Father Wilfrid McKenzie O.S.B. often used to give, years ago: “Keep trying – never give up hope.” They are words of good advice, and profound in many ways – for they are words that are reflected in the following passages from the Bible, encouraging us to always persevere: 

  • “And indeed everything that was written long ago in the scriptures was meant to teach us something about hope; from the examples scripture gives of how people who did not give up were helped by God.” (Rom 15:4) 
  • “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9)  
  • “Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times.” (Rom 12:12) 
  • “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father (who has loved us and given us un-ending encouragement and unfailing hope by his grace) inspire you with courage and confidence in every good thing you say or do.” (2 Thes 2:16-17) 

Perhaps, the final word can be left with St. Peter; in his first letter, he wrote: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.”  (1 Peter 1, 3-4).


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