Sure and Certain Hope

Sure and Certain Hope

Second Sunday of Advent. Fr Richard Conrad preaches on St Paul’s hope and love for his fellow Christians. 

‘I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the Day of Jesus Christ.’ With these words, St. Paul expresses his hope for his friends at Philippi.

St. Thomas Aquinas recognised a drive called ‘hope’ in animals, a drive that energises you to tackle something important, but difficult, yet possible. The kind of drive aroused when the bull is chasing you, and it’s not beyond you to make it to the fence and scramble over. This drive can be brash, and subject to miscalcula­tion, hence it is strong in young men and drunkards.

The hope St. Paul expressed is a much higher – a divine – drive, a ‘theological virtue’, a God-given strength energising the most important project of all, the journey into God’s own bliss. This hope cannot be brash; it does not presume on God’s friendship as something due to us, for friend­ship must be received as a gift.

The journey would be quite beyond us, were not Jesus the Way, were not the Holy Spirit our Paraclete, our Friend for the campaign. For a creature cannot seize know­ledge of the God who alone possesses being, and is out of all proportion to us who receive being.

So is our hope a miscalculation? True, we are drunk on the Spirit; true, in the Anima Christi we ask Christ’s blood to intoxicate us. But St. Paul says hope does not disappoint us, St. Thomas says it is marked by a certainty. God has begun a good work in us. We were created in the image of the Holy Trinity, needing the Holy Trinity – and Father, Son and Spirit have shown us Their eagerness to meet the need they gave us.

In due time, Jesus dwelt among us revealing the Father who sent him. Throughout history he has come to birth in the minds of God’s friends, purifying our vision with a share in the wisdom that he is. So we can hope that the Father will once again send his Son to our souls, after death, for him to ‘blow our minds’ and make us able to know his Father! We can hope that the Father will once again send his Son, on the Last Day, to complete his work of bringing us into the divine Glory.

As the result of Jesus’s sacrifice, the Father sent the Spirit to energise the Church. Throughout history he has been sent to God’s friends, to ‘enlarge our hearts’ with a share in the love that he is. So we can hope that after death, and on the Last Day, the Spirit will complete his work of enabling us to embrace the Father, and enfolding us in the divine Glory that he is.

St. Paul can see that the Philippians have the mind of Christ and are attuned to the Spirit. So, while he urges them to grow further in Christ’s perspective and in love, he hopes with a divine certainty that their grace will grow into glory. For the hope God has given me, energises me – but Paul is so much one with his friends in Christ, so much animated with the same Spirit, that their growth is his, and his is theirs.

Common prayer expresses this common hope: Paul prays for his friends, and asks for their prayers. We do not pray for each other as if doubting God’s power and purpose to save. Rather, we express our soli­darity with God’s purpose, we share his thirst for all his children to share his bliss. By inspiring our prayer, God makes us his fellow-workers, ministers for the completion of the work he has begun.

We admit that we can lose Christ’s perspective, offend against love. Even in times of sin we must hope – and therefore pray – for God to restore wisdom and charity. But Paul can see the Philippians held secure in that love, that loyalty, that casts out fear of separation from God. So he prays, and urges them to pray, with joy, without anxiety.

There is, St. Thomas says, a fear of the Lord that goes with hope. This reverence and awe before the God on whom we depend for our very being will remain on the Day of Jesus Christ. For then we shall see how wondrous is the work of creation, how more wondrous the work of grace, and with what divine genius the Holy Trinity has brought this work to completion.

Readings: Baruch 5:1-9|Philippians 1:4-6,8-11|Luke 3:1-6

fr. Richard Conrad teaches dogmatic and sacramental theology at Blackfriars, Oxford.