For in hope we were saved... --Romans 8:24, and the theme of Pope Benedict's encyclicalTo the Christian, Advent is surely the season of hope, and while the devout Catholic no doubt sees a multitude of hopeful stories at Christmastime, today Fighting Irish Thomas will focus on three, an improbable 80-year-old pope, an unexpected 8th-time mother, and an unlikely 2008 presidential candidate—all tied together by the topic of hope.
Cardinal Ratzinger was looking forward to a peaceful and prayerful retirement when circumstances and the Spirit prompted him to reluctantly accept the role of pontiff. But while Benedict may not be as fleet on foot as JPII was in his heyday, his mind is in its prime, as the "Pope of Hope" once again proved with his latest encyclical.
Regina Hughes had already been blessed with seven children, yet this devout Catholic woman, who looked upon motherhood as a vocation, always believed the Lord had one more in store for her. Still, Regina was approaching her 46th year and prospects for her first child in five years were now growing dim. Yet as many biblical women with miraculous pregnancies, she never lost faith, and never gave up hope ... until she ... like Anne, Elizabeth, and Mary, conceived.
"I had definitely thought about using the name 'Hope' after I heard the good news," said Regina, "so for me, hearing about the pope's new encyclical on the subject was not an inspiration, but a confirmation of what my daughter was to be called." Hope Cecilia was born on Oct. 15 (the Feast of Teresa of Avila), and was baptized on Dec. 2 (the Sunday nearest to Pope Benedict's encyclical's release date of Nov. 30), as well as the first Sunday of Advent, the day the Church lights the Advent wreath's candle which signifies hope.
In Spe Salvi, the Pope comments on Hebrews 11:1, the famous biblical definition of faith and hope, and compares the traditional Catholic translation to that of the reformer Luther. "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the proof of things not seen," is how the passage was translated by the Church fathers, while Luther (who never liked the Book of Hebrews much anyway) went with "Faith is standing firm in what one hopes for, being convinced of what one does not see." Benedict, in support of the Church's accepted verse, notes that hope "is not merely a personal reaching out toward things to come, it gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for." Certainly Christ's coming as flesh, not to mention Regina's "Hope" coming as "substance," instead of merely "conviction," seems to support this translation too!
In this encyclical, Benedict also talks about prayer as a "school of hope," and he uses the example of the saintly Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, who was imprisoned for his faith for thirteen years, and for whom prayer was his only contact with God in an otherwise hopeless situation.
Certainly as late as early fall, the presidential candidacy of Mike Huckabee, with little money and single digit voter support, looked just as hopeless. But the former Baptist minister from Hope, Arkansas, turned to prayer, and he attributes his rise from afterthought to Iowa front-runner to "divine intervention," in part due to the countless prayers of his supporters. But while there is substance to Huckabee's candidacy as well, the battle is far from over. Ironically, the Pope also talks of political hope in Spe Salvi, citing the works of the famous philosopher Immanuel Kant. In his 1792 publication "The Victory of Good over Evil Principles and the Founding of the Kingdom of God on Earth," Kant talks about the possibility of "the gradual transition of ecclesiastical faith to the exclusive sovereignty of pure religious faith," (in other words, a Christian democracy) as the coming of God's kingdom here on earth. Yet, two short years later, a more wary Kant warns, "If Christianity should one day cease to be worthy of love ... then the prevailing human thought would be the rejection and opposition to Christianity, and the Antichrist would begin his (albeit short) reign."
Indeed, astute political observers realize there were two famous politicians from the little town of Hope, one currently bearing the prayers of millions of Christians, the other the predecessor of Kant's other problematic possibility. While Regina's babe and Huckabee's candidacy are indeed proofs of hope, this pope has been around long enough to know that true hope also involves suffering. As any mother knows, and as Benedict reminds us, hope must include "suffering with others and for others out of love." But along with Benedict's definition, comes his final question. "Does truth matter enough to me to make suffering worthwhile?"
Regina Hughes' answer to this question was, like Our Lady's, a resounding yes. But as this Christmas season passes into an election that holds Kant's two dramatically diverse choices, let us pray to Mary, under her new title (from this encyclical), the Star of Hope, that truth matters enough to enough citizens in these United States that we choose the true man of Hope to lead our country out of this present Culture of Death into the Way with the Truth and the Life.