Here in La Crosse, Bishop Jerome Listecki is about to issue a call to Catholics to read the pope's new encyclical, "Spe Salvi." Yesterday I was hard at work on an article about the bishop's request, which will appear in our Dec. 27 issue. On Thursday Father Sam Martin, chaplain at La Crosse's Aquinas High School, and I will be guests on the bishop's radio program (this won't actually air until January) to talk about the encyclical. In preparation for the article and radio appearance, I spent part of yesterday trimming down the encyclical to my favorite parts. If you haven't had time to read it in its entirety, check out these paragraphs -- and then click here to read the whole thing!
Selections from “Spe Salvi”
Not only informative but performative
“Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only ‘good news’ – the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only ‘informative’ but ‘performative.’ That means: The Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known – it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life. (n. 2)
Hope means knowing God
“To come to know God – the true God – means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God. (n. 3)
A gift we receive in baptism
“According to (the dialogue of baptism), the parents were seeking access to the faith for their child, communion with believers, because they saw in faith the key to ‘eternal life.’ Today as in the past, this is what being baptized, becoming Christians, is all about: It is not just an act of socialization within the community, not simply a welcome into the Church. The parents expect more for the one to be baptized: they expect that faith, which includes the corporeal nature of the Church and her sacraments, will give life to their child – eternal life. Faith is the substance of hope. But then the question arises: Do we really want this – to live eternally? Perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. What they desire is not eternal life at all, but this present life, for which faith in eternal life seems something of an impediment. To continue living forever – endlessly – appears more like a curse than a gift. (n. 10)
Trying to understand heaven
"In some way we want life itself, true life, untouched even by death; yet at the same time we do not know the thing towards which we feel driven. We cannot stop reaching out for it, and yet we know that all we can experience or accomplish is not what we yearn for. … Inevitably it is an inadequate term that creates confusion (Eternal Life). ‘Eternal,’ in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; ‘life’ makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose… . To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality—this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy. (n. 12).
False hope of progress, materialism
"Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science. Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive. Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it. … Man's great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God – God Who has loved us and Who continues to love us ‘to the end,’ until all ‘is accomplished’ (See John 13:1 and 19:30). (nn. 25, 27)
Learn hope through prayer
“A first essential setting for learning hope is prayer. When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. When I can no longer talk to anyone or call upon anyone, I can always talk to God. When there is no longer anyone to help me deal with a need or expectation that goes beyond the human capacity for hope, he can help me. (n. 32)
We don’t suffer alone
“To suffer with the other and for others; to suffer for the sake of truth and justice; to suffer out of love and in order to become a person who truly loves—these are fundamental elements of humanity, and to abandon them would destroy man himself. … Bernard of Clairvaux coined the marvellous expression: Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis – God cannot suffer, but He can suffer with. Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way. … Certainly, in our many different sufferings and trials we always need the lesser and greater hopes too – a kind visit, the healing of internal and external wounds, a favorable resolution of a crisis, and so on. In our lesser trials these kinds of hope may even be sufficient. But in truly great trials, where I must make a definitive decision to place the truth before my own welfare, career and possessions, I need the certitude of that true, great hope of which we have spoken here. For this too we need witnesses – martyrs – who have given themselves totally, so as to show us the way – day after day. … I would like to add here another brief comment with some relevance for everyday living. There used to be a form of devotion – perhaps less practiced today but quite widespread not long ago – that included the idea of ‘offering up’ the minor daily hardships that continually strike at us like irritating ‘jabs,’ thereby giving them a meaning. … Maybe we should consider whether it might be judicious to revive this practice ourselves. (n. 39-40)
Purgatory and prayer
“Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other – my prayer for him – can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well. (n. 48)
Now that you're inspired, read it!