Last week, in this column, I wrote about the many events that occur during the month of November. As we have entered the month of November, the days will quickly pass through Thanksgiving and into the month of December. We gain an extra hour of time by moving the clock back this weekend, but that will not be very much in the face of all that is before us. November truly is a month of hope, and that hope is so important to us as the light of our lives. Pope Francis often speaks of the importance of hope as a source of healing.
Hope is a virtue we may not think about too often but one by which we live our lives each day. Hope is much deeper than simply persevering through difficult times. It is, as defined by The Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in God’s promises and relying, not on our strength, but on the grace of the Holy Spirit.” More towards living the experience of hope, The Catechism tells us that, “the virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hope that inspires men’s activities and purifies them so as to order him to the kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude.”
It is obvious from the description of hope in The Catechism of the Catholic Church that hope and eternal life are closely associated. Hope drives us toward heaven and reminds us that life in this world is passing, with all of its joys and all of its difficulties. However, we are able to face the difficulties of the present precisely because of hope. We entered into November with the Solemnity of All Saints and the Commemoration of All Souls. We are reminded that this life is moving toward eternal life and that those who have gone before us share this life. We, too, look forward to sharing our ultimate home with them when every tear will be wiped away and we shall see God as He is.
The world, indeed, has much suffering and unhappiness within it. As we experience this disharmony within our great nation and the horrific wars around the world, we are aware of that suffering. However, we do not have to go too far from our own homes to experience difficulty. In fact, many times we do not have to leave our homes to encounter such. It is hope that sustains the world and each one of us in these times of distress and difficulty. Hope does not simply urge us to keep going as things will get better. Hope looks beyond the present difficulties of this life to the promise of eternal life and God’s loving presence. It is the sure conviction that life is worth living, even with suffering and pain, because God loves us and leads us to Himself and ultimately to eternal life with Him.
The words of the prophet Isaiah regarding hope are good ones to keep before us during this month of November: “They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength. … They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint” (Isaiah 40:31). Truly, it is the Lord who gives us the strength to keep going in the face of overwhelming obstacles. Isaiah makes clear that God gives strength to those who hope and trust in Him. Those who do not place their trust in God will falter, no matter how much vigor they may possess. “Though young men faint and grow weary and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, … they will soar as with eagles’ wings” (Isaiah 40:30, 31).
God can indeed accomplish the impossible through us if we are willing to hope in Him. The great composer, Ludwig van Beethoven, was a devout Catholic with much faith. He wrote some of the greatest pieces of music that civilization will ever know. Through his music, he was able to lift the human spirit beyond itself and into the transcendent realm of God and heaven. However, during the latter part of his career, Beethoven lost his hearing. One cannot imagine a more dire affliction for a musician to have to suffer. Yet, deafness did not stop this man who hoped in the Lord and eternal life. While deaf, he composed some of his masterworks, including his Ninth Symphony, which extols the joy all people should experience. He also composed one of his most sublime spiritual works, the Missa Solemnis. Over the score for the Credo of this Mass the deaf Beethoven wrote, “God above all — God has never deserted me.” This is truly an example of one who hoped in God, and because of that hope moved beyond the limits of human nature.
Our society is on the brink of growing weary. For all of its emphasis on youth and vigor, it is staggering and falling. Again, the division within our nation and wars around the world remind us of the need for hope in the Lord. The problem of our world today is a problem of hope by looking at the wrong objectives for purpose in life rather than at God. As St. Paul expresses in his Letter to the Romans: “In hope we were saved. But hope is not hope if its object is seen; how is it possible to hope for what one can see? And hoping for what we cannot see means awaiting it with patient endurance” (8:24-25). We must, as St. Paul reminds us, hope against hope (cf. Rom 4:18).
During this month of November, we will commemorate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. When he accepted his nomination for the presidency in 1960, he announced the vision of a New Frontier for our nation. He was youthful and energetic and inspired great hope for the future. However, in the plans he placed before the nation he quoted the words of hope of Isaiah 40:31 and concluded his remarks by saying, “As we face the coming challenge, we too shall wait upon the Lord and ask that He renew our strength. Then shall we be equal to the test. Then we shall not be weary. And then we shall prevail.” It is sad that the era of the 1960s lost the vision of hope in the Lord, which has resulted in so many of society’s present difficulties.
As we move through this month of November, let us renew our hope in the Lord. We look forward to eternal life and, therefore, can face the challenges of the present life with the conviction that God is with us now. Let us continue to hope in the Lord so we can renew our strength, run and not grow weary, and walk but not grow faint. November is a month of hope, and hope is truly needed by all!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
November 3, 2023