This week we turn to the third and final point of reflection inspired by Pope Francis and Pope St. John Paul II. Having looked to the past with gratitude and having recommitted ourselves to living the present with passion, we now embrace the future with hope.
To aid in our reflection for this week, we can turn to the Pope who served in between the two already mentioned, Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict wrote a very beautiful reflection on the topic of Christian hope in his second encyclical, Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope). At the conclusion of the first section, the Holy Father writes about the day-to-day hopes that we have, none of which are bad. But they are limited. He then provides the following key understanding of Christian hope:
[W]e need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. The fact that it comes to us as a gift is actually part of hope. God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is “truly” life. (31)
It can be an interesting exercise to notice how often we use the word “hope” in our daily vocabulary. We have so many hopes that help to keep us moving forward. We must, however, not fall into the trap of thinking that the fulfillment of these hopes will ever be enough. Only in God can our deepest hope be fulfilled, and only in Him can we truly live. When we embrace that truth, our future becomes so much brighter.
Look back at the quote above and notice the following sentence: “God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety.” It is this mystery of God who has a human face that we celebrate at Christmas. God, the source of our hope and life, has come down into our human condition to become one of us, such that we can look upon Him face to face. This is truly remarkable! Many of us will be setting up our nativity sets in our homes soon, and I encourage you to practice the custom of keeping the baby Jesus hidden away until Christmas. In the days leading up to Christmas, as you look at the scene, let your hearts be filled with hope as you look forward to finally seeing Him lay in the manger on Christmas morning. Let that be the driving hope in these final days, surpassing other hopes such as what you might get for Christmas presents, or being able to see family members. All of those are good, but they all fall short of the hope that we have in seeing our God face to face. When you finally are able to place Christ in the scene, why not give Him some sign of your affection, for in doing so, you are embracing the one who is the fulfillment of our hope. May that embrace spur us on to persevere on this journey with joy as we look forward to the final goal of our hope, seeing Him face to face in Heaven.