In his letter to the Philippians (3:12-14), St. Paul indicates that he has not yet reached the goal he is aspiring to. He has not yet finished the course, grasped the prize, or reached the finish line:
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. . . . Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Pope Benedict says much the same in his encyclical Spe Salvi: “In hope we were saved.” A distinguishing mark of Christians, he says, is the fact that they have a future:
It is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well (2).
The poet Robert Browning put it this way: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
Hope is a future-oriented virtue. It acknowledges that there is a future awaiting us that is much, much better than the present. The virtue of hope, with its orientation to the future, enables us to handle present distresses and struggles in a positive way.
The letter to the Hebrews (11:13-16) recalls the faith of the ancients:
All of these died in faith. They did not obtain what had been promised but saw and saluted it from afar. By acknowledging themselves to be strangers and foreigners on the earth, they showed that they were seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking back to the place from which they had come, they would have had the opportunity of returning there. But they were searching for a better, a heavenly home. Wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
Pope Benedict reminds us in Spe Salvi that this perspective does not mean for one moment that we live only for the future (4). People in hope are building up the kingdom on earth, but they are also on pilgrimage to that eternal kingdom God has in store for those who follow him.
Question for reflection/action/commitment
What did Robert Browning mean when he wrote, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”
Let us pray
Lord, watch over your people, who come to you in confidence. Strengthen the hearts of those who hope in you. Give courage to those who falter because of their failures. In this holy season of Advent, lead them closer to you in hope, by the power of your Holy Spirit. May they one day proclaim your saving acts of kindness in your eternal kingdom. Amen.
Bishop Robert J. Baker is a noted speaker and author and currently serves as the bishop of the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama.
This is an excerpt from "Reasons for Hope: Meditations for the Advent Season." You can read more reflections here.