Monthly Prayer: January 2024
A reflection from Father David Stewart
There’s hoping, and there’s hope.
Christians know the difference.
Hoping is wanting something to happen with at least a degree of expectation that it might happen, if all goes well – “I’m hoping the shop will still be open”, “I hope the train is on time”.
It’s not quite certainty. It admits the possibility of disappointment. It’s rather like making a wish when we blow out a birthday cake candle. The wish is usually sincere but can be rootless.
We accompany expressions of hoping by crossing our fingers, and, if disappointment comes, by shrugging our shoulders. We can put an unfavourable outcome down to bad luck, whatever that might mean!
Hoping tends to be subjective in that, although we’re doing the hoping, any factors that might bring about the desired outcome are beyond us, or outwith our control; hoping can be fatalistic.
For followers of Christ, hope is a virtue. It is the second of our three “theological virtues”, accompanied by faith and by love. Hope is an act of our wills. It is defined, in our treasured Catholic theological tradition, as a grace, or supernatural gift granted by God. It could hardly be any more different from crossing the fingers, “hoping for the best”.
It’s a theological virtue and that means that it’s a grace of God. These three virtues are given to us, graciously, in freedom, by God. We are, on our side, free to practice them or not. Ultimately, these theological virtues have as their object union with God: but we need to practice them, we need to co-operate with that gift.
These virtues, as our theological tradition explains, differ from the “cardinal virtues” -- prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance – that anyone should practice, believer or not. They are values that help us to live well together. We are encouraged to exercise them in our everyday lives.
It is not something for which we can ask in prayer because, as the baptised, we’ve already received it. Our task is not only to live it but to share hope with others who, for whatever reason, don’t have it or don’t recognise it. The New Testament reminds us, in 1 Pet. 3:15, always to be ready to account for our hope. How? By letting it be visible in our living.
We learned, millennia ago, from the Greeks that the way to acquire a virtue was to practice it! Followers of Christ, having already received this grace, can perfect their living of it in a similar way – by doing it, by living it!
Many of our brothers and sisters who depend on SCIAF are hoping for a better life, whether that’s relief from the effects of the climate catastrophe that they didn’t cause or from war, persecution and famine. What we can share with them is hope as a lived & visible Christian virtue. Thus, what we hope for, ultimately divine & eternal, is less enduring than the virtue that is its foundation.
At the beginning of a new calendar year, we’ll all be hoping for a better one than last. Can we do our bit to make it so, not just by hoping for the best but by living the virtue of Christian hope? It is, after all, a gift that God gives freely and longs, indeed hopes that we will use. And like all God’s gifts, it is not for ourselves and our own wellbeing but must be put into practice for the greater common good, especially towards the poorest and those of the human family least able to live a healthy, safe and happy life.
Give thanks that we have a God who cares for us. A God of justice, a God of peace.
Pray that the God of hope will fill you and those closest to you with joy and peace.
Pray for those that SCIAF serve. That they may live in peace and that they may experience justice.
Pray for SCIAF’s partners who work tirelessly to help our sisters and brothers work their way out of the poverty they find themselves in.