Hope that saves


Pope Benedict XVI yesterday released his second encyclical, Spe Salvi (Saved By Hope), continuing his emphasis on the basic truths of the Christian life.

His first encyclical, published in December, 2005, was dedicated to the Christian understanding of love. With this one dedicated to hope, he may be planning a trilogy covering the three most important Christian virtues, faith, hope and love.

Spe Salvi puts a basic question: What is the hope that can give meaning to life? Without some form of hope, Benedict argues life becomes tedious and potentially burdensome, even if it is marked by material affluence and technical progress. A person without hope finds himself in an existential difficulty: For what enduring purpose am I clinging to this life that I love and do not want to lose?

“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,” Benedict writes.

“Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well.”

Hope is not then something for the future alone, a sort of wishful thinking about what might be; it offers meaning for life today. Christian hope is founded on certain faith that life is not a meaningless riddle, but a mystery progressively revealed and finding its fulfillment in the redemption won by Jesus Christ and offered to all peoples.

In restating this basic Christian doctrine, Benedict argues it is not only for Christians. Others may not share the Christian faith in God, but the Christian proclamation that hope comes from within the person — the realm of faith and conscience — is for them, too.

Benedict’s key argument is that hope cannot come from what one is against — even if it be poverty, inequity, or injustice. Having hope requires a positive reason to live for, which he argues is not a reason so much as a person: God.

It offers an important protection against stifling, occasionally brutal social systems built on false hopes founded on political ideologies, economic models and social theories and which come from outside the person.

“Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus, whose struggle led to so much bloodshed,” the encyclical says.

“Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation like Barabbas. Jesus, who himself died on the Cross, brought something totally different: an encounter with the Lord of all lords, an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within.”

Benedict highlights that point, retelling the story of St. Josephine Bakhita, a 20th-century former slave who found physical and spiritual liberation in an Italian convent. That she was a black slave born in Darfur draws attention to Sudan, where slavery still exists, and sources of hope are desperately needed.

While slavery binds the body, the Pope also argues against a philosophical materialism that binds the human spirit to this world alone.

“Man can never be redeemed simply from outside,” he writes.

“Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science. Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive. Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it....

“It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love. This applies even in terms of this present world. When someone has the experience of a great love in his life, this is a moment of ‘redemption’ which gives a new meaning to his life.”

Notwithstanding the Associated Press headline, “Pope Criticizes Atheism in Encyclical,” it is not a brief against atheism. Benedict’s key argument is that hope cannot come from what one is against — even if it be poverty, inequity, or injustice. Having hope requires a positive reason to live for, which he argues is not a reason so much as a person: God.


Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Hope that saves." National Post, (Canada) December 1, 2007.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2007 National Post

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