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Chapter 28: The Practicability of Christian Morality

Question G: Why is hope indispensable to living a Christian life?

1. Hope is related to faith and charity (see S.t., 1–2, q. 62, aa. 3–4; 2–2, q. 4, a. 1). By faith we accept God’s love in the form of covenant communion; by this love we are disposed to fulfillment in divine life. By hope we count on God to fulfill the covenant he has made with us in Jesus—to bring us to fulfillment in Jesus by making us faithful as he himself is faithful.

2. Hope is the orientation of one’s entire Christian life toward the reality of the unseen fulfillment in Jesus, which already exists in him and is being built up as we live our lives. We look for completion yet to come, for we wish to be part of heavenly fulfillment and to be aware of being part of it (see S.t., 2–2, q. 17, aa. 1–2, 6). Like all the saints before us, we now know the real meaning of our lives only by faith. The great cloud of witnesses (see Heb 11.1–4; 12.1) is composed of all those who showed their absolute confidence in God’s faithfulness to his promises. They lived by faith, which was effective in shaping their lives in that it told them precisely what they could hope for and gave them grounds for believing in the reality of what was unseen.

3. The world as we know it is passing away (see 1 Cor 7.31; GS 39). Our heavenly home already exists, and we only wait to be taken into it. By hope we live in accord with this reality, which is altogether opposed to the realism of common sense.

St. Paul clarifies the reality in which Christians live. Heaven must not be set aside as “other-worldly,” for a sense of its present reality is a key to living a Christian life now: “For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. Here indeed we groan, and long to put on our heavenly dwelling. . . . He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Cor 5.1–2, 5).

4. Christian realism has not only individual but social dimensions; one fully formed by the Christian modes of response is not solely concerned with individual salvation. But even though Christians are bound to do all they can, consistent with uprightness, to bring about human fulfillment here and now and overcome evil in this world, there are limits. Faithful Christians, in order to mitigate social evils, will not do what they believe wrong, for they are convinced that these evils do not compare in significance with the heavenly fulfillment to come: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8.18).

5. This is not hope for a purely individualistic salvation. It is a hope for humankind as a whole and indeed for the whole universe (see Rom 8.19–25). Christians most perfectly fulfill social responsibility when they work energetically and unselfishly to spread God’s redemptive truth and life to all humankind. By the same token, the Christian who is content to treat the faith as if it were a private possession fails in love of neighbor (see S.t., 2–2, q. 17, a. 3).

6. Jesus’ redemptive work does not simply cancel out sin and restore this world to what it was. While it makes possible a good life in this world, there are many respects in which such a life cannot be humanly fulfilling, since it is lived amid the consequences of sin and involves suffering the consequences of faithfulness to Jesus. It will very often seem—and worldly wisdom will insist—that the only reasonable course is to do something evil, in order to avoid a greater evil or bring about a greater good. In such cases, it is only by hope that goodness is possible. By hope one realizes that one’s good act is invisibly fruitful, that its fruit will last, and that one who loses everything for Jesus’ sake in this world will be most richly fulfilled in him in heaven.

In announcing the kingdom of God, Jesus urged that we look forward to it (see Mt 24.44–51; Mk 13.32–37; Lk 12.35–48). While waiting, he taught us to persevere until the end (see Mt 10.22; Mk 13.13; Lk 21.19). After the resurrection of Jesus, the early Church looked forward longingly to his return (see 1 Cor 16.22; Phil 3.20; Rv 22.20). Christians waited in hope (see Gal 5.5; Ti 2.13). What they hoped for was salvation, eternal life—a share in the resurrection and glory of Jesus himself (see Rom 5.9; 6.22; 8.17; Gal 6.8; Phil 3.20–21; 2 Thes 2.13).

If one is faithful to the end, one can be confident that one’s hope will be fulfilled (see Heb 6.11). The basis for assurance is the faithfulness of God to his promises, and the fact that Jesus already has entered glory (see Heb 6.13–18). “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6.19–20). The blood of Jesus assures our entrance into heaven “by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (Heb 10.20).

Our hope extends through the Eucharist from this world into the invisible kingdom which is growing, and in which the real results of our present lives are being built into fulfillment. Getting results here and now is of no great importance (see Mt 16.26; Mk 8.36; Lk 9.25). The Christian lays up treasure in heaven (see Mt 6.20–21; Lk 12.33–34). The reality of a Christian’s life is not apparent. It is hidden with Jesus, and will appear only when he comes (see Col 3.3–4).

The confidence of the Christian is not in himself or herself. The basis of confidence is that one has experienced God’s love, and one knows by faith that the power of the Holy Spirit is available (see Acts 1.8; Rom 15.13). With such confidence, when seemingly most alone, one knows that one is in the company of the divine persons (see Jn 14.16–18).