Suffering, pain, and loss are a part of every human life. We experience minor setbacks and major ones. Some of us experience catastrophic events in which all hope appears extinguished.

Consider for example, those who suffered in concentration camps: physically abused, daily threatened by murderous death, enduring the loss of all property and privacy, and mourning the extinction of so many friends and relatives.

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl pointed out that people in these horrible circumstances nevertheless reacted in radically different ways. Some killed themselves; others praised God even as they walked into certain death. As Frankl remarked, ‘He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how.’2 Man needs hope to live.

In his second encyclical letter, Spe Salvi3, Pope Benedict XVI emphasizes the indispensability of hope for those who encounter suffering of whatever depth:

‘[T]he present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey’4

In addition to enduring present hardships, we also fear the suffering that has not yet come. In dark times, it is easy to imagine a future filled with even greater affliction, debilitating loss, and destroyed dreams. Indeed, the foreboding future can darken the present.

But despite all difficulties, Christians need never fear the future. Pope Benedict writes:

‘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. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well’5

Man needs Hope, not only for the future, but also for the present.

But what exactly is ‘Hope’? In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict focuses on a number of important aspects of Hope:

  • the relationship of Hope and Faith;
  • the way in which Christian Hope has been replaced by secular ideas of progress achieved through technology; and
  • how Christian Hope has been misunderstood as merely an individual matter of personal salvation without a social dimension.

 

Edited and adapted from an article of the same title by Dr. Christopher Kaczor. Dr Kaczor holds an M.M.S. (1994) and a Ph.D. (1996) from the University of Notre Dame. He has published eight books including, The Ethics of Abortion, O Rare Ralph McInerny: Stories and Reflections on a Legendary Notre Dame Professor, Thomas Aquinas on the Cardinal Virtues; Life Issues-Medical Choices; Thomas Aquinas on Faith, Hope, and Love; The Edge of Life: Human Dignity and Contemporary Bioethics, How to Stay Catholic in College, and Proportionalism and the Natural Law Tradition. https://www.catholic.com/magazine/print-edition/man-needs-hope-to-live dated 12 October 2011.
2   ’Man’s Search for Meaning’, 121
3   Spe Salvi, Saved by Hope
4   Spe Salvi para.1
5   Spe Salvi para.2

This article can be found in Mirror 0417.