Monday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time
February 1, 2021
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 31 which assures us that we can rest in God’s love if we will just hope.
Hope can be a complex virtue to understand.
The Catholic Catechism describes Hope in this way:
Hope is the theological virtue
by which we desire the kingdom of heaven
and eternal life as our happiness,
placing our trust in Christ’s promises
and relying not on our own strength,
but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.
This definition offers an important key. The kind of hope we are praying about in our psalm is a “virtue”, not a feeling. And in particular, hope is one of the three theological virtues which, according to the brilliant Thomas Aquinas means this:
… these virtues are called theological virtues
“because they have God for their object,
both in so far as by them we are properly directed to Him,
and because they are infused into our souls by God alone,
as also, finally, because we come to know of them
only by Divine revelation in the Sacred Scriptures”.
Now, you know, Thomas wasn’t probably that fun to talk with, given all that theological Latin. But, wow, he nailed this one.
What I think he meant, in other words, is that we are not talking about the feeling of hope, as when we put a soufflé in the oven and hope it doesn’t collapse. Or when we study like crazy and hope the right questions are on the exam. Or even when, more importantly, we make a life choice like marriage or religious life and hope it will bring us a fulfilling, lasting joy.
These kinds of “hopes” might be better defined as optimistic expectations. If they fail to be fulfilled, we might give up on them, perhaps even stop trying to achieve the kind of joy they promised. (That’s a whole other reflection! 🙂 )
Instead, the Hope we are praying about today is not a feeling. It is a gift, given by God and nurtured by our faithful practice of scriptural prayer.
Just like “Life” which is breathed into us by God without any cooperation of our own, the virtue of Hope – along with Faith and Love – is infused into our souls in God’s loving act of creation.
And just like the principle of life,
Faith, Hope, and Love
reside in us forever.
These theological realities can be hard to grasp. To make it easier, I turn them into images for my prayer. I picture Faith, Hope and Love as three small but inextinguishable candle flames deep in my spirit. God is the One who fires their light and warmth.
The circumstances of my life, chosen or imposed, can affect my ability to see and feel the power of these gifts. But circumstances cannot extinguish them because they belong to God not to me.
Once I said in my anguish,Psalm 31: 23
“I am cut off from your sight”;
Yet you heard the sound of my pleading
when I cried out to you.
By prayer, and the faithful effort to be open to God’s Presence in my life, these virtues deepen in me. I can rest assured in their divine constancy. Their power and energy fuel my life both in the favorable and unfavorable “winds” of my circumstances.
Love the LORD, all you his faithful ones!Psalm 31: 24
The LORD keeps those who are constant,
but more than requites those who act proudly.
I found this tender transliteration of Psalm 31 by Christine Robison helpful for my prayer:
I have come to you, O God, please, take me in. Hear my prayers, be my rock, my stronghold, my castle. Help me untangle myself from the web of confusions and self-deceptions that I’m stuck in. I put my trust in you—I give you my life. I have turned from the temptation to trust the ten thousand things. I have turned from the temptation to despair of your love and help. I have learned to see you in my sorrows and afflictions A lot of my life went by before I managed this, which makes me sad. Now, I practice trust and open-hearted acceptance of my life as it is. Now I practice trust and open-hearted acceptance of You as You are.
Poetry: Hope – Lisel Mueller
It hovers in dark corners before the lights are turned on, it shakes sleep from its eyes and drops from mushroom gills, it explodes in the starry heads of dandelions turned sages, it sticks to the wings of green angels that sail from the tops of maples. It sprouts in each occluded eye of the many-eyed potato, it lives in each earthworm segment surviving cruelty, it is the motion that runs from the eyes to the tail of a dog, it is the mouth that inflates the lungs of the child that has just been born. It is the singular gift we cannot destroy in ourselves, the argument that refutes death, the genius that invents the future, all we know of God. It is the serum which makes us swear not to betray one another; it is in this poem, trying to speak.
Music: Lavender Shadows – Michael Hoppé