What is Hope?

I launched the Always Hope podcast back in October 2018 to help you see how living with hope will improve your life and relationships and better equip you to navigate cultural issues. It is a joy doing the show, but there is a lingering issue that continues to arise in my mind. I have failed to define my terms! Namely, the most important word of the show… hope. (My inner academic feels ashamed right now.) Therefore, in the next few blog posts, I’m going to define how I see hope from both theological and psychological lenses.

What is hope? In a nutshell, hope is the fundamental belief that things will get better. It is an interior disposition that is tied to both endurance and courage. It is the ability to hang on in the hard times and, simultaneously, the ability to make real changes in life when needed. Hope is a virtue that leads us to happiness and peace. It is good to live life with a belief that no matter what happens things will get better. The opposite of hope is despair: the belief that no matter what happens things will not get better or will get much worse. Simply put, despair sucks and is terrible for your mental health.

We need hope but more importantly we have to place our hope in the right things, because hoping is a vulnerable process. What happens when the thing we hope for doesn’t work out? Our expectations get crushed and we get hurt. What happens when we constantly open up and get disappointed? Well, then, eventually we stop opening up to not take the chance of getting hurt. This is why in AA circles, they say “hope and sh** go hand and hand.” That’s why it is crucial to not just have a willy-nilly hope, but one that is truly anchored in something that will never disappoint. We have to place our hope in something that will ultimately bring us authentic happiness or everlasting peace.

This is why hope is more than just a human virtue, it is a theological virtue. Hope is most fully actualized when it rests on God, who is the object of our hope, and the source of it. We have hope to the degree that we are able to see God’s goodness in the difficulties of life. Heaven is where we are headed and the taste of it along the journey of life is what keeps us going. As Christians, we believe in a God who became a man to teach us what it means to be fully human and then he died on the cross and rose again to give us the grace needed to actualize that vision of humanity.

Our hope squarely rests on the reality of the resurrection. It is the answer to the riddle of death. If God himself could die (which is just about the worst thing that could happen) and then overcame that atrocity in a miraculous event, then couldn’t he save us from our sin and struggles, too? If he is a personable and loving God? Because of this belief, hope is intimately connected with faith and love, which round out the three theological virtues. “…And so faith, hope, and love remain, and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13). Without love and charity there cannot be a fullness of hope. Without faith, we cannot access the grace needed to live with hope.

Can we have hope without faith? Yes, of course. Anyone can have an optimistic belief that things will get better or find ways to create meaning and purpose in life. Yet, I’m with Benedict XVI who said in Spe Salvi, that without faith, our hope will be placed in lesser things whose peace is temporary. We look for a new job, success, achievement, we buy a new gadget, or seek to make some other change hoping that it will bring us peace and happiness. Or we look for substances or certain behaviors to bring us momentary feelings of calm and relief. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t desire success or look for ways to improve our life, I’m just saying that we still need something bigger to anchor those changes and direct our decisions in a way that brings real hope. Change for the sake of change is not real hope.

Can we have hope without love, though? I don’t think so. Even our hope in ‘lesser things’ should be motivated out of love for peace and consolation to be real. Love is the greatest virtue, it is the one that remains for all of eternity. Love is the supreme good that brings meaning in life. Firmly stated, without love we will despair and turn away from goodness. Eventually, without love, we will grow to hate the good things in life; like the Grinch hating the Whos and their joy of Christmas. An inability to face the goodness of life because it hurts too much is a severe pain indeed. Love is the purpose of life, it “decides everything” (quoting Fr. Arrupe) and we really need it to have hope.

I’ll end this post, by reflecting on a movie that drives these points home, The Shawshank Redemption. This is a movie about how hope can be lived even in the most despairing of places. Andy’s hope allows him to endure the challenges of prison life, yet it is the same hope that helps him plot his escape. The Mexican paradise is his hope that allows him to believe that goodness has not been lost in the world. (Of course, the beach is a metaphor for heaven, which is Paradise itself!) He also is motivated by his love for his friend, Red. Andy’s desire isn’t just to be in Paradise alone, but to be there with his friend. (Is this not a metaphor for the the Communion of Saints!?) Like Andy, let us place our hope in things that are truly substantive. Let us hope with faith and love so that we can have peace in life.

Stay tuned, part 2 of this series on hope will be out soon! Follow me on facebook or instagram (@drmariosacasa), so you don’t miss it when it comes out!

Dr. Mario Sacasa

Dr. Mario Sacasa

Associate Director of Faith and Marriage

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