by Fr. Adam
The Resurrection of Christ makes possible an indomitable hope. It is certainly providential for us that the worst weeks of the pandemic, in our country, come as we celebrate the ultimate victory of Christ over sin and death. In the darkest time, we are reminded of the strength of our hope.
What does Christ’s Resurrection have to do with the virus? This virus is simply just another agent of death. Many things threaten to bring us to death’s door; COVID-19 is just a new addition to the list. It is precisely the defeat of death that we celebrate at Easter as we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection. Death took hold of him “But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power” (Acts 2:24). And for us, “as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ” (1 Cor. 15:22).
The Resurrection of Christ calls us to embrace the virtue of hope. Hope is one of the theological virtues, meaning it is a supernatural gift of grace from God. It is also a virtue, like a habit or a spiritual muscle, that can strengthen through exercise.
Another incredible truth of the theological virtues is that they know no excess. One cannot hope too much. Just as you cannot believe too much in God with faith, nor love God too much in charity, you cannot hope too much in God. The theological virtues do not turn into vices with excess.
Here I do not speak of an earth-bound optimism that our efforts will pay off and things will turn out well. The foundation of optimism is simply the desire for a good outcome, which is acceptable by itself. Yet it provides us only loose footing on which to stand because its power must come from within our frail humanity; it depends on the strength of our will.
In contrast, Josef Pieper describes two important elements of the virtue of Christian hope. First, the primary aim of hope is for eternal life, not happiness on earth. Hope is grounded fundamentally in the saving work of God, which is principally the Resurrection of Christ and the promise that we can share in it. It is not a stretch to say that the virtue of hope is nothing if Christ did not rise from the dead.
Second, hope contains an active ‘yes’ to the created world and all the events that come to us. These include the people around us, the place in which we live, the demands of love in any moment, and all the good, the bad, and the ugly that befall us. Both of these elements, eternal life and the events of this life, are gifts from God and a part of the story of our salvation.
If Jesus rose from the dead and if our participation in his saving work includes all the events of our lives, hope becomes a beacon of light scattering all the agents of fear we encounter in life. One of the very first things Jesus said to the visitors of the empty tomb on Easter Sunday was “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:10).
Pope John Paul II repeated Christ’s exhortation to “Be not afraid” on the day of his election as pope and throughout his pontificate. He was calling contemporary mankind to engage their hope to combat all fear. He said, “Why should we have no fear? Because man has been redeemed by God…The power of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection is greater than any evil which man could or should fear.”
Hope is the virtue we practice to combat fear and its efforts to take up dominion in our lives. Are there things to rightly fear? Sure. Should any of them cause us to despair? No. All fears should be seen in context of, and the glorious light of, Christ’s triumphant Resurrection. In that light, we see they have no real power over us.
It may often seem that evil people and evil events, viruses for example, are the most powerful forces in the world. Even the Christian, loved and cared for by God, can suffer dreadfully from a disease or can suffer unjust violence. Faith in Christ does not spare one from these evils. Hope in Christ allows us to accept them from God with full confidence in Him.
And so I conclude with an exhortation to hope, which is really a reiteration of Christ’s Easter call, “Do not be afraid.” Hope, in the one who defeated death, and embracing all events as Christ embraced his cross, liberates us from the tyranny of fear. In the face of uncertainty about the future, we choose hope. Up against a death dealing virus, we choose hope. Against nagging loneliness, we choose hope. You get the idea. And hope, chosen in each moment of the day, hardens to become a solid foundation upon which we can weather any storm, standing tall. It becomes indomitable.
Let us hope with reckless abandon today, tomorrow, and each day we are given. The light of the risen Christ shines in our darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.