The words in the title of this article were uttered by Meghan Merkle, wife of Prince Harry, and Duchess of Sussex in the U.K., as she concluded her inspirational remarks at the recent CNN Heroes Program.
Meghan’s remarks are simple words that one hears quite often from people who wish to end a conversation on a note of encouragement. These words, however, merit deeper reflection for the depth of the reality that underlies what is said. In light of a Christmas season that is happening during an extraordinarily difficult year for a lot of people, this reflection seems so timely and relevant.
Someone has remarked that hope is distinct from mere optimism.
One can be optimistic about the results of one’s efforts. When I have made honest effort at working something out or completing a task and made sure I have covered all the angles, it is normal for me to expect good results. That is optimism.
But when I know the situation is fraught with circumstances beyond my control and the resources at hand are clearly inadequate, and I feel unsure about the moves I am making or the steps I have taken, it takes more than optimism to still expect good results. It takes hope.
Someone else has observed that hope is the forgotten virtue of our time.
In an age of great scientific and technological strides, many people have become very wealthy and prosperous. They have the means to purchase or produce goods and services that whet their appetite for comfort and progress. But there are many, many more who have lagged far behind or been shut out of the means to improve their lives. For them, even the bare minimum to simply survive and continue living is uncertain. Poverty, deprivation, and helplessness stare them in the face every day of their lives.
The irony of our times is that – whether wealthy and prosperous or poor and helpless – more and more people seem unable to achieve their hearts’ desires and are, instead, feeling more and more hopeless.
Someone has called this the phenomenon of diminished hope, or, perhaps, misdirected hope.
The highly regarded theologian for the ages, Saint Thomas Aquinas, has described hope as a virtue that enables us to desire for something good that is “difficult, but possible to attain.” Indeed, there would be no need to hope if we can easily get what we want, but neither is there any reason to hope when what we desire is completely beyond our grasp.
But Aquinas adds a new dimension to this definition of hope. He traces the desire that hope generates to “a future good – difficult but possible to attain – by means of the divine assistance on whose help it leans.” He thus introduces the element of divinity into what constitutes hope, so that what is desired finds its “origin, motive, and object” in God.
Thus, hope is included among what theologians call the theological virtues, along with faith and charity, or love.
Phrased in this manner, Aquinas helps us understand that the problem with modern man may not be that we are frustrated that we hope for too much, but that we have learned to settle for so little. Unwittingly, we may be – as one writer has put it – “causing the horizons of hope to shrink.”
Fortunately, the world gets to be reminded every year of a wider horizon and a better future that awaits us all. It surpasses everything else that this world has to offer. It is life in, and with, God, beginning here on earth and culminating in God’s kingdom for all eternity. It is the story of the Emmanuel – God with Us. It is the assuring presence of God in our lives wherever or however we may be.
It is the incomparable promise to which, in the mind of Aquinas, genuine hope beckons.
The Greatest Story Ever Told begins its re-telling with every Christmas season. We recall His birth by the Virgin Mary in the humblest of circumstances – in a stable for lack of a room in the inns, and revealed only to humble shepherds and a handful of wise men in search of heavenly signs that would signal the coming of the Prince of Peace.
From there the rest of the story unfolds – how He grew up and worked as a member of a humble but respected human family; and how He came out publicly in the last three years of his life on earth to reveal His divinity and proclaim His mission. He taught His followers the right way to live that is pleasing to His Almighty Father, and invites others to follow Him and gain their places in His heavenly kingdom. He demonstrates His power through sublime teachings and miracles until the consummation of his redemptive sacrifice. Then He rises back to life after three days, ascends to His Father in heaven, and sends the Holy Spirit to His disciples, just as He had promised. And they are completely transformed. And ready to meet Him when He comes again.
That is the story on which we pin our hope.
Genuine hope, then, is thoroughly Christian. It is bold and audacious because it reaches for an unsurpassable good: the very life, love, goodness, and joy of the divine as taught and demonstrated by Jesus Christ Himself.
In this context, hope is not a fleeting emotion, much less an attitude that fades when life is hard, but a resilient stance toward life marked by trust, confidence and perseverance.
It both challenges and empowers the believers to live differently, because the Christian understanding of hope is rooted in the unshakeable conviction that our God loves us and wants our good. As Saint Paul wrote to the Romans: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (8:31)
Hope can thus be quite liberating. It frees us from the sickening habit of worrying excessively about ourselves and puts a stop to the fruitless exercise of always comparing our status and achievements with another’s.
As another writer put it, “for Christians, hope is a new and abundantly promising way of life characterized by joy and thanksgiving, service and generosity, hospitality and celebration and even the wonderful freedom to fail.”
For David Elliott, “it is only when we lose sight of who we are and where we are going that hope diminishes—and eventually disappears. Who are we? We are pilgrims on a journey to God, making our way to God and helping others do so as well. Where are we going? We are heading to that great feast that Jesus called the reign of God, the heavenly banquet where we rejoice together in the presence of God and love one another as we do so.”
If we live in a time of diminished hope, it may be because we have lost this sense of ourselves as wayfarers, as pilgrims in the world making our way to God.
As a virtue, therefore, hope is a gift that has to be cultivated, nurtured and practiced lest it shrivel and die. One way of nurturing it is by being always grateful for whatever blessings we have received, no questions asked, no comparisons made.
Gratitude and hope are closely intertwined because both hinge on learning to look for what is there instead of what is missing. With gratitude we realize that even though life doesn’t always give us what we want, it does bless us with unexpected goods and delights.
Hope also grows deeper in us when we commit to being ministers of hope to others. Hope grows when it is shared, it blooms when it is given away.
It is precisely because we are confident of the hope God holds out for us that we can attend to the needs of others and do what we can to work for the world’s healing.
In Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 encyclical “Spe Salvi” (Saved in Hope): “It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain.”
In this spirit, indeed, there is hope. And we will be okay.