Fr. Roger J. Landry
Catholic Online Year of Faith Homily Series
October 29, 2013
During this Year of Faith, one of the most important things to grasp is how our faith influences our entire Christian life, but especially our hope and charity.
The connection between faith and charity gets a lot of attention in Sacred Scripture and in Catholic homiletics. St. Paul calls us to a faith that works itself out through love (Gal 5:16). St. James reminds us that faith without works is dead (James 2:20). Jesus himself multiply praises those who not only hear the word of God but put it into practice.
The connection between faith and hope is less pondered, because we’re living in an age in which we’ve stuffed ourselves with so many lesser goals that the great goal and hope of the Christian life has for many faded into the unconscious background.
Just as a true Year of Faith must be a Year of Charity, so it also must be a Year of Hope.
Pope Benedict six years ago wrote a beautiful encyclical stressing the connection between faith and hope. He entitled it “Spe Salvi,” taken from the words of St. Paul in today’s first reading, “For in hope we were saved” (Rom 8:24).
Pope Benedict said, “According to the Christian faith, ‘redemption’—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey “
Salvation is a journey made with conviction toward the greatest goal and destination of all, eternal life with God.
Pope Benedict went on to stress the connection between faith and hope.
Hope, he wrote, “is a key word in Biblical faith—so much so that in several passages the words ‘faith’ and ‘hope’ seem interchangeable. Thus the Letter to the Hebrews closely links the ‘fullness of faith’ (10:22) to ‘the confession of our hope without wavering’ (10:23). Likewise, when the First Letter of Peter exhorts Christians to be always ready to give an answer concerning the logos—the meaning and the reason—of their hope (cf. 3:15), ‘hope’ is equivalent to ‘faith.’
“We see how decisively the self-understanding of the early Christians was shaped by their having received the gift of a trustworthy hope, when we compare the Christian life with life prior to faith, or with the situation of the followers of other religions. Paul reminds the Ephesians that before their encounter with Christ they were ‘without hope and without God in the world’ (Eph 2:12). Of course he knew they had had gods, he knew they had had a religion, but their gods had proved questionable, and no hope emerged from their contradictory myths. Notwithstanding their gods, they were ‘without God’ and consequently found themselves in a dark world, facing a dark future. …
“In the same vein he says to the Thessalonians: you must not ‘grieve as others do who have no hope’ (1 Th 4:13). Here we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians 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.”
All of that led Pope Benedict to conclude: “Christianity was not only ‘good news’—the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only ‘informative’ but ‘performative.’ That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.”
The one who lives in hope live with God in the world. That’s what it means to live by faith. And when one truly lives with Christ one is experiencing in embryonic form the salvation Christ won for us and wants to give us forever.
Likewise, when one has faith, it not only “informs” his life, what he thinks is the truth. It has a “performative” impact, it changes his behavior, his actions, his goals, his very being.
Later on in his beautiful encyclical, Pope Benedict turned to the Letter to the Hebrews to describe in greater detail this connection between faith and hope and how the Christian faith performatively changes us and leads to salvation in hope.
Focusing on the Letter’s definition of faith as the “substance of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen,” Pope Benedict said that this word “substance” points to something firm and fixed in us, a stable disposition through which “eternal life takes root in us and reason is led to consent to what it does not see.” He says faith is the possession in embryonic form in the present of all that we one day hope for with God in heaven. It’s a down payment of eternity. Faith doesn’t just reach out to something we’d like to have, but rather gives us something, and that confidence we have is a proof in the present of what we don’t yet possess. If faith is the down payment of eternity, hope is what gets us to long with assurance for the payment in full.
The human hope in God, our expectations of him, is totally transformed by Christ’s incarnation, his passion, death and resurrection. The God in whom we hope has revealed himself. He has given us already the “substance” of things to come, and for that reason our expectation of God takes on a new certainly.
“It is the expectation of things to come from the perspective of a present that is already given,” Pope Benedict wrote. “It is a looking-forward in Christ’s presence, with Christ who is present, to the perfecting of his Body, to his definitive coming.”
We look ahead but we look ahead knowing that Christ is already with us in the world.
This understanding of hope helps us to understand better what Jesus teaches us today in two Gospel parables about the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of hope. Like hope, it is both “now” and “not yet.” Jesus will sometimes say the “kingdom of God is among you” and other times he will describe it as something that will happen later when he comes in his glory (see Mt 25:31).
When Jesus says that the Kingdom of God is like a “mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden” that eventually becomes “a large bush” where the birds of the sky can dwell in his branches, he’s forming us all in the confidence we need to have for the coming of his kingdom. Even if at present, the kingdom seems to be one of the tiniest of seeds, we know that that tiny seed — the grain of wheat that fell to the ground and died so that it could bear fruit, Christ himself (Jn 12:24) — already contains within the fullness of the kingdom, just as a mustard seed already contains in “fertilized embryo” the full identity of the future mustard tree.
Likewise the image of the Kingdom as yeast points to us the confidence Christ has that, together with him, one or a few faith-filled hopeful Christians in a neighborhood, in a work setting, in a school, are enough to lift up the entire environment. The confidence comes from our already having received in the present in embryonic form the power of Christ’s resurrection, which has lifted up the entire fallen world.
This understanding of hope also helps to make St. Paul’s words to the Romans in today’s first reading more intelligible.
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time,” St. Paul declared, “are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” Christians are able to suffer well because we are not suffering alone. Christ is with us in the world. We can put up with others’ confiscating our property, taking away our freedoms, even threatening to kill us, because we have a better possession, something far more valuable, a pearl of great price worth far more than all we might be asked to give up. We’ve already glimpsed a little of that glory and that gives us courage and perseverance.
“For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God,” St. Paul continues. Creation already contains within it the seed that will flourish. We’ve been made for God and when we are restored by Christ to full communion with him, “set free from slavery to corruption,” it’s then when we will “share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” This happens not merely in a moral and spiritual level here on earth, but will happen in a physical way, too, through the physical corruption of death and the total freedom of a resurrected body totally aligned with the soul and, more importantly, with God.
This process going from “down payment” to “payment in full,” from “seed” to “tree,” from “embryo” to “adult,” is not an easy one. It’s in fact arduous. St. Paul describes the sufferings as “labor pains” leading to the fulfillment of our divine filiation when we will not only be called children of God but truly be children of God seeing God as he is.
“We know,” St. Paul writes, “that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
That’s how “in hope we are saved.” As we approach in a few days the celebration of All Saints, we ask all those who now possess in fulfillment what we on the way possess in embryo to intercede for us that during this Year of Faith and beyond we may have a vibrant faith that overflows in hope, helping us to live with Christ in the world so that we may live with him and the saints forever.