What Do Hope, Fear, and Poverty Have in Common?

Saint Benedict Center’s 2020 Conference is now history. Many very satisfied and happy conference-goers have told us how much they enjoyed the event. We Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary are very grateful to all who came and joined us for a very good time. The conference talks are now available both as MP3 downloads and on CD (with DVD’s coming soon).

The theme was “Immunizing Ourselves against Viruses of the Mind.”

For this present Ad Rem, I employing material that I prepared for one of my two talks, “Acquiring Spiritual Immunity: The Virtues and Gifts That Turn Pathogens into Abundant Life.” A couple of thoughtful listeners informed me that they had profited from this particular section of the talk, so I thought the interest might be more general.

The Virtue of Hope, the Gift of Fear and the Beatitude of Poverty of Spirit

I would like to begin these thoughts on Christian Hope with that lovely traditional prayer, the “Act of Hope”:

O MY GOD, relying on Thy almighty power and infinite mercy and promises, I hope to obtain the pardon of my sins, the help of Thy grace, and Life Everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.

This prayer teaches us much of a doctrinal character, just as it allows us truly to exercise the second theological virtue: First, it teaches us that without the virtue of faith whereby we know of the divine promises of grace in this life and heavenly glory in the next, we cannot have hope. Next, it teaches us that the infinite power and the mercy of God are the motives for our Christian hope. Lastly, it teaches us about what Saint Thomas calls the “primary and secondary objects” of the virtue of hope: Primarily, hope has eternal life in heaven as its object; but, secondarily, it has as its object the divine assistance we need in this life in order to be saved, referred to in the prayer as “the forgiveness of sins and the help of Thy grace.” Saint Thomas teaches us that we cannot hope for material things by this virtue unless those material things are in fact something helpful to our salvation. He also points out that we hope for ourselves only and not for other people — but with one exception: If we are joined to another by charity, that person is “another self,” and we can hope for him as we hope for ourselves and by that same theological virtue of hope. He likens this to the fact that the theological virtue of charity is one, even though with it we love both God and neighbor. Similarly, with this second theological virtue we hope both for ourselves and those to whom we are united in charity. This is a profound encouragement for those of us with fallen-away loved ones. If we are united to them by divine charity, we can make acts of hope both for their and our conversion and salvation.

In the times in which we live, unrest and incertitude are prevalent both in the Church and in civil society, and not only because of the coronavirus phenomenon. Other causes include the social balkanization we are experiencing, along with the civil disturbances following in its wake, the deplorable increase of “culturecide” in the nation, and the seemingly unrelenting scandals in the Church. The economic ruin suffered by many small business owners and wage earners thanks to the COVID-19 lockdowns has caused a spike in depression, anxiety, and consequent suicides. The atmosphere is heavy with the toxic fumes of despair. In light of this, we need to make frequent acts of hope, renewing the supernatural purpose of that virtue which does not put its trust in this world or its rulers but in God’s almighty power and infinite mercy. This will serve to assure us — amid the manifold heartaches, trials, and contradictions of this life — that we can and will certainly obtain a better life if we persevere and avail ourselves of God’s grace. In fact, based upon what mystical and ascetical theology teaches us, terrible trials can cause us to purify our hope of all the dross that can creep into it — like the consolations and comforts that often help to prop us up — and bring us to hope only in God’s unfathomable mercy and omnipotence. Of course, we hope in the prayers of Our Lady and the saints as well as those of our Catholic brothers and sisters in the Church Militant, but only as instrumental causes working with the primary efficient cause of hope, who is God alone.

Concerning this matter of trials perfecting hope, Saint Paul had some things to say:

[W]e glory also in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience trial; and trial hope; And hope confoundeth not: because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us. (Rom. 5:3-5)

For we know that every creature groaneth and travaileth in pain, even till now. And not only it, but ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption of the sons of God, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen, is not hope. For what a man seeth, why doth he hope for? But if we hope for that which we see not, we wait for it with patience. (Rom. 8: 22-25)

Patience, ladies and gentlemen, is the ability to suffer well.

There is a bad kind of fear that our visible and invisible enemies aim to manipulate, but now I would like to speak briefly of the good kind of fear, the kind of fear we need. The virtue of hope is perfected by the gift of the fear of the Lord. This fear is not mundane fear (which is always evil) or even servile fear, which is good but imperfect. The fear which is a gift of the Holy Ghost is none other than filial fear, the supernatural reverence of God that fears to offend Him because He is so good and so worthy of our love. That fear is something that the Man-God Jesus Christ Himself possesses — even now in Heaven. It perfects hope by preventing it from becoming presumption. Hope reaches out to God while fear keeps us in reverent awe of our divine Father and Judge. And, while the virtue and gift of fortitude are the chief opponents of the base kind of fear that we see being manipulated by our enemies, there is a certain sense in which the wholesome fear of the Lord that is this gift of the Holy Spirit serves as a remedy to base and unworthy fear. If nothing else, by it our fears are rightly ordered in accord with Our Lord’s admonition: “And fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him that can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

Saint Thomas Aquinas agrees with Saint Augustine in attributing the first beatitude to this gift of Fear of the Lord. In Saint Augustine’s words, “The fear of the Lord is befitting the humble of whom it is said: Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

If we are truly poor in spirit, we seek what our souls need from God alone, from whom all good things come, and not from ourselves or from any other mere creatures except as instruments in God’s hands. Thus the beatitude of poverty of spirit is a perfect, excellent, and delightful fruit that comes from the theological virtue of hope perfected by the gift of fear of the Lord.

One of the Sisters who so graciously proofread this piece sent me a lovely passage from the writings of Saint John of the Cross, thinking that this prayer of the great Doctor of Mystical Theology would serve as a nice complement to what I had written. Since this Ad Rem is a bit short, I append it here as a coda:

Clothe me, O God, with the green garment of hope. A living hope in You gives the soul such ardor, so much courage and longing for the things of eternal life that, by comparison with what it hopes for, all things of the world seem to it to be, as in truth they are, dry, faded, dead, and without value. Give me then, a strong hope, O my God, so that it may strip me of all the vanities of the world, that I may not set my heart upon anything that is in the world, nor hope for anything, but live clad only in the hope of eternal life. Let hope be the helmet of salvation which will protect my head from the wounds of the enemy, and will direct my gaze to heaven allowing me to fix my eyes on You alone, my God. As the eyes of the handmaid are set upon the hands of her mistress, even so are my eyes set upon You, until You take pity on me because of my hope. Grant that I may set my eyes on naught but You, nor be pleased with aught but You alone. Then You will be pleased with me, and I shall be able to say in all truth that I receive from You as much as I hope for. (John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul, II, 21,6-8)