Benedict sees the trend to limit Christian concern to otherworldly salvation as a misunderstanding of the social nature of both Sin and Salvation:

[S]in is understood by the Fathers as the destruction of the unity of the human race, as fragmentation and division. Babel, the place where languages were confused, the place of separation, is seen to be an expression of what Sin fundamentally is. Hence ‘Redemption’ appears as the reestablishment of unity, in which we come together once more in a union that begins to take shape in the world community of believers.18 

Every Sin—even Sins of thought which are known to no other human person—involves a social dimension.

Every loving act—again including those apparently unknown—moves humanity forward.

This movement for better and for worse remains fluid in human affairs. Improvements in the social order are therefore always partial and fragile. We cannot through human efforts and structures create a utopia on earth. Pope Benedict writes:

‘Since man always remains free and since his freedom is always fragile, the Kingdom of Good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises the better world that is guaranteed to last for ever is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom. 

Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good. Free assent to the good never exists simply by itself. If there were structures which could irrevocably guarantee a determined—good—state of the world, man’s freedom would be denied, and hence they would not be good structures at all.’19

Although our hope is primarily for heaven, our hope also extends to earth, towards spreading the kingdom of God here and now. Even though our efforts to do this will never achieve full and permanent success, our efforts can make this world, imperfect as it is, better than it was.

Technological progress certainly can improve human lives but more than that is needed to make life truly worth living. In the words of Pope Benedict:

It is not science that redeems man: Man is redeemed by Love. This applies even in terms of this present world… The human being needs unconditional love

He needs the certainty which makes him say: ‘neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Rom. 8:38-39).

If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then—only then—is man ‘redeemed,’ whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances. 

This is what it means to say: Jesus Christ has ‘redeemed’ us. Through Him we have become certain of God, a God who is not a remote ‘first cause’ of the world, because His only-begotten Son has become man and of Him everyone can say: ‘I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me’ (Gal. 2:20).20

In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict focuses on the infused theological virtue of Hope. He underscores its essential connection with the virtue of Faith.

He also notes how ideologies such as Marxism and ‘faith in progress’ fueled by scientific advancement have in effect replaced Christian Hope in the hearts of many people.

Even among Christians, Hope has been misunderstood as merely a matter of personal salvation without a social dimension.

The complexities of Benedict’s message can be summarized fairly simply: To live a hopeless life is to live a miserable life. We need the various little hopes that we nurture, for good fortune, family, and friends, and most of all we need the fundamental Hope of attaining Heaven with the help
of God
.

Christopher Kaczor

 

Edited and adapted from ‘Man needs Hope to Live’ by Dr. Christopher Kaczor.https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/man-needs-hope-to-live dated 12 October 2011.
18 Spe Salvi, 14.
19 Spe Salvi, 24.
20 Spe Salvi, 26.

This article can be found in Mirror 0417.