Hope, an Encounter With Love

Father Ledesma, Theology Dean, Comments on "Spe Salvi"

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ROME, DEC. 7, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a commentary on Benedict XVI's encyclical "Spe Salvi" by Legionary of Christ Father Juan Pablo Ledesma, dean of theology at the Regina Apostolorum university.

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The two wings with which the human spirit arises toward the contemplation of truth, taught John Paul II, are faith and reason. Using an image of St. Isidore of Seville, we can describe in a stroke the content of this second encyclical of our Benedict XVI. Hope is "the foot" one uses to advance toward future goods. The opposite is despair. And the one without feet despairs.

Throughout the whole of the encyclical the question arises always new and always current: Why do we hope? The image of the path, of the foot, synthesizes and crystallizes the integral vision of Christian hope that Benedict XVI offers us, because hope and salvation are inseparable.

I am astonished in the first place at his theological intuition in order not to enclose hope in the chains of a conceptual or static definition. On the contrary, he presents hope in its dynamism, in a personalized, comprehensible form, and in open and current dialogue with everyone.

Perhaps the most original aspect of this encyclical is the fact that it demonstrates hope in its integrity, embracing all spheres. First, it addresses time, including the past, the present and the future, looking toward eternal life. Then, it talks of the various schools where one can attain hope: prayer; action, because all serious and right action of man is hope in act; suffering, and here it's fitting to point out how suffering forms part of human existence and constitutes his greatness.

Additionally, God is joined to and is near to our pain. Christianity teaches that God -- truth and love in person -- participates in and joins our suffering, because he wanted to suffer for us and with us. Citing St. Bernard, Benedict XVI says, "God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with."

The Pope also speaks of hope in connection with the Final Judgment. Souls have hope of salvation in the resurrection of the body. The image of the Final Judgment is not a terrifying image, but an image of hope in Christ, our advocate.

Hope develops itself in two dimensions, like the two arms of a cross: They do not stay in themselves, but project themselves into the other, like salvation or sin, which are not individual. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one redeems himself alone.

That vision of Benedict XVI stands out in close relation and interaction between virtues and life. Faith is not only a tending of the person toward what is to come, and that is already totally absent; faith gives us something. Between the lines, the reader can summon those thoughts which the then professor Joseph Ratzinger taught in his "Introduction to Christianity": a faith that is hope, which places its trust in God the Father, who can neither be deceived nor deceive us.

The hope to which Benedict XVI invites us is personal, because it is born of the encounter with a person, who is love, truth, liberty. In a word: God. A hope revealed and witnessed by the first Christians.

It is thrilling to reread this encyclical through the prism of false hopes: from the revolutionary ideas of Barabbas and Bar Kokhba, the subjugation to fatal destiny, the unsuccessful attempts of the French Revolution to establish the dominion of reason and of liberty, the Europe of the Enlightenment, the false idea of human progress, up to the disastrous consequences of the Marxist errors, forgetting that man is always man.

Hope, therefore, transforms all personal, social and religious spheres. Christian hope is invoked in a prayer to Mary, the "Star of the Sea," which shines above us and guides us on our path; a path that should be run with the feet of hope.