We read in history that when Alexander was setting out on one of his expeditions of conquest, he gave up all his belongings so generously that one of his friends wondered at what he would reserve for himself on his return.
To this Alexander answered ‘hope’. This noble answer from a man described as arrogant in some text books has served from that day to the present as an inspiration to many people: Great hopes make great men.
When we find ourselves in uncertain situations, in the lowest ebb of adversity, in all threatening situations, hope matters a lot, because it can be a stimulus to pick ourselves up and continue the pursuit of the goals of our life.
And that is the main theme of our liturgy of this Sunday whose readings are : Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 1; 1 Corinthians 15:12, 26-20; Luke 6:17, 20-26
When talking of the importance of hope in man’s life, the novelist Maria Louise de la Ramé is criticized for her realistic phrase: Take hope from the heart of man and you make him a beast of prey.
This is not an exaggeration; hope is so important in our life! Today, the meaning of hope may differ from one context to another. For the sake of clarity, we may limit ourselves to psychological and Christian viewpoint.
Psychologists define hope as the sum of mental willpower towards one’s goals. The Christian concept on the other hand, is entirely biblical and looks at hope as one of the three virtues together with faith and love (1 Cor. 13:13.
But of these three, hope is the most distinct because it is directed toward the future, which is unknown to man.
As a coin has two sides, so is hope.
From its positive side, hope involves the perception that one’s goals can be met. And when it is anchored to a specific and attainable goal, it is ‘directed hope’, a hope which knows proper orientation and avoids building castles in the air.
In his teaching, St Paul seemed to be proud of such a kind of hope: “ …we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast… (Heb 6:19)” Martin Seligman, a renowned psychologist believes that ‘directed hope’ makes us optimist and enables us to look at defeats as temporary setbacks or as challenges to overcome before we reach our goals. With that kind of hope, people usually choose higher and more difficult goals and generate alternative solutions to the challenges met on their way.
On its negative side, hope may be false; disoriented or misguided by fear. When that happens, the individual may develop some pessimistic tendencies and may believe that bad events are his or her fault, and that such events will last for a long time.
In such a case, it becomes hard to take specific, energetic, and frequent actions to make our situation better, since hope helped by fear continues to work against us.
As a result, one gets stuck in a state of passivity, resignation, and stagnation. And then one begins to see a hopeless end, where those with directed hope see an endless hope.
As we continue our journey in 2010, the Church proposes ‘hope’ as the theme of our meditation in order to show us the benefits of placing one’s hope in God.
In Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, Jesus offers a stark contrast between being blessed and experiencing woe. Through his discourse, Christ challenges the thought patterns that dominate the world and seeing the world as the ultimate destiny of man.
He reminds us that our human value is much more than that; we are created for an eternity with God. And this gives a new meaning to our human fulfillment and where we place our hope.
In his teaching Jesus knew very well that as human beings, the business of living must occupy much of the interior space of our minds and hearts. There are daily worries and struggles that we must undergo in order to live a decent life and fulfill our responsibilities.
And Jesus is telling us that it is precisely in such situations, and in our daily lives that we discover that we can do and be much more. It is in our daily responsibilities that we discover what we were created for.
And this enables us to raise our hope and expectations even higher; from time to eternity. Then we are given to understand what the Psalmist means when he sings: Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord. (Ps 31:24).