Prayer Seen as School of Hope

Pope Offers Practical Ways to Attain Virtue

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By Carrie Gress

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 30, 2007 ( Zenit.org).- Through prayer, we can attain the virtue of hope, and become witnesses of the theological virtue for others, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope said this in his encyclical "Spe Salvi" (Saved in Hope), released today, in which he offers practical ways of attaining the theological virtue. The title refers to St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, 8:24: "For in hope we were saved."

"A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer," said the Holy Father.

He gave as an example the experience of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan (1928-2002), who had spent nine years in solitary confinement. "During 13 years in jail, in a situation of seemingly utter hopelessness, the fact that he could listen and speak to God became for him an increasing power of hope, which enabled him, after his release, to become for people all over the world a witness to hope -- to that great hope which does not wane even in the nights of solitude."

The Pontiff continued: "When we pray properly, we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well.

"In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God -- what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment -- that meager, misplaced hope that leads us away from God.

"We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves."

"In this way we undergo those purifications by which we become open to God and are prepared for the service of our fellow human beings," explained Benedict XVI. "We become capable of the great hope, and thus we become ministers of hope for others."

Suffering

"We must do all we can to overcome suffering, but to banish it from the world altogether is not in our power," said the Holy Father, as he delved into a second method for learning hope.

"It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed," added the Pope, "but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love. Christ descended into 'Hell' and is therefore close to those cast into it, transforming their darkness into light.

"Suffering and torment is still terrible and well-nigh unbearable. Yet the star of hope has risen -- the anchor of the heart reaches the very throne of God. Instead of evil being unleashed within man, the light shines victorious: suffering -- without ceasing to be suffering -- becomes, despite everything, a hymn of praise."

"In the end," he added, "even the 'yes' to love is a source of suffering, because love always requires expropriations of my 'I,' in which I allow myself to be pruned and wounded. Love simply cannot exist without this painful renunciation of myself, for otherwise it becomes pure selfishness and thereby ceases to be love."

But the avoidance of love also finds suffering, added the Pontiff. "When we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, […] we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater."

Last judgment

"From the earliest times, the prospect of the [Last] Judgment has influenced Christians in their daily living as a criterion by which to order their present life, as a summons to their conscience, and at the same time as hope in God's justice," said Benedict XVI, touching on a third school of hope.

The Pope said that even though in modern society the idea of the Last Judgment has been forgotten, "God now reveals his true face in the figure of the sufferer who shares man's God-forsaken condition by taking it upon himself.

"This innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: There is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith. Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh.

"There is justice. There is an 'undoing' of past suffering, a reparation that sets things aright."

"For this reason," he added, "faith in the Last Judgment is first and foremost hope -- the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries."

Lights

"The true stars of our life are the people who have lived good lives," said the Holy Father. "They are lights of hope."

"Certainly," he added, "Jesus Christ is the true light, the sun that has risen above all the shadows of history. But to reach him we also need lights close by -- people who shine with his light and so guide us along our way. Who more than Mary could be a star of hope for us?"