Letters to Peregrinus #18 - On Hope's Justification

Dear Peregrinus (Tuesday AM):

You write artfully, which I always experience as an expression of respect ... for yourself as much as for me. I deeply appreciate that you care about meaning. Nothing slapdash about you. Thank you.

One of your thoughts caught my attention more than the others, because of the intensity of feeling you communicated with it. You wrote, “I am feeling bleakness at the choice of candidates foisted on us by our political system. I wish that I had greater faith in our system of government than I do.” Strong words; clear affect.

I thought of one of the last Psalms in the Book of Psalms in whose lines we find:

Put no trust in princes,
in children of Adam powerless to save.
4 Who breathing his last, returns to the earth;
that day all his planning comes to nothing. [1]

What seems most important is where the Psalmistʼs locates these lines. The con-text (verses 1-2 and 5-10) is theologically more significant than the text (verses 3-4).

But, for the sake of full disclosure, I myself have felt a similar political bleakness. I am familiar in thought and affect with “no trust” and “powerless to save” and “comes to nothing.” But Psalm 146 exposes in me an insufficiently redeemed perspective (perhaps you and I are alike in this), and how this sets me up to fall prey to temptations against hope ... and to feel trendy and self-satisfied when I irresponsibly do fall for such temptations.

Here are three thoughts about this, which I offer you, trusting that you will write back your own thoughts.

First, hope is a super-natural virtue, not a natural, or in-born, virtue, as are those famous four capacities – justice, fortitude, temperance, and prudence, which each of us is able to bring to the strength of a virtue with proper training. What a “super-natural” virtue means is that we borrow this strength from God; it is a capacity – along with faith and love – given us by the Holy Spirit the closer and more real our relationship to Jesus Christ becomes. It is as if something of the divine character, something of Jesus Himself, “rubs off” on us.

Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us, because Godʼs love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. [3]

Second, the implication of this in light of your doleful observation about contemporary American politics is that hope will never have its source in any political system, nor in any ideology, nor from the zealous followers of some currently flattered and imperious sub-community of bias. Human institutions, because populated with people, will always creatively generate disappointing outcomes for the common good. But divine hope has its source solely inside a real and developing knowledge of God made possible through an actual relationship with Christ. Period. Thus a feeling of hopelessness must be seen by us for what actually it is: a temptation to justify our feeling of hopelessness in evidences given us in the cussed behaviors of people. The fact is that there is no justification for hopelessness, because being hopeless, when Christ has already proven Himself the master of even the worst the world could throw at Him, is simply not justified.

Yet I am not really alone for the Father is with me.
I have told you all this so that you may find your
peace in me. You will find trouble in the world—but, never lose heart,
I have conquered the world!”[4]

Third, and finally, this is why the location of those verses 3-4 of Psalm 146 is so important. Notice the context! The opening lines are the exclamation of a person actively experiencing his or her relationship with God: “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord, my soul; I will praise the Lord all my life, sing praise to my God while I live.” (Psalm 146:1-2, NABRE). It is as if the Psalmist by spiritual habit and discipline refuses to entertain doleful observations about the state of the world (verses 3-4) until first he or she practices an awareness of God Who is greater: “You will find trouble in the world – but, never lose heart; I have conquered the world.” And then having made God aware (verses 3-4) of how he or she is experiencing intense disappointment at the “princes,” who are “powerless to save”, the Psalmist proceeds to enunciate, seven times in a row (verses 8-9), the divine title – “Lord...” – announcing God Who is the subject of seven verbs – “unties ... opens ... straightens ... loves ... protects ... comforts ... leads” – effectively solving seven major problems that regularly defeat the political capacities, or will, of the powerful.

Peregrinus, when I get overwhelmed by bleakness, and you hear me falling under its spell, would you please remind me about Psalm 146? In other words, as I have sought to encourage you in the Lord in this letter, so I give you the right, and the commission even (!), to speak persuasively to me, to guard me from temptations against hope.

After saying all that, what have we said, my God, my life, my holy sweetness? What does anyone who speaks of you really say? Yet woe betide those who fail to speak, while the chatterboxes go on saying nothing.[6]

I am your friend in Christ, old friend,

Rick, SJ


[1] New American Bible (Revised Edition.; Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Ps 146c3–4.

[2] The Oxford English Dictionary online notes that the original meaning of the adjective “bleak,” first appearing in written form in 1552, referred to a landscape lacking greenery, bare of vegetation: “Pale, pallid, wan; deficient in colour, esp. deficient in the ruddy bloom of health, or the full green of vegetation” And because this look of things is typical of Winter, the adjective came to mean also: “cold, chilly”. And a little later, around 1719, the adjective also meant: “cheerless, dreary.”

[3] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Ro 5:1–5.

[4] John 16c32-33 – The New Testament in Modern English by J.B Phillips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishopsʼ Council of the Church of England. Used by Permission.

[5] I use the verbs as translated by Samuel Terrien in his translation of Psalm 146 in his The Psalms (2003).

[6] Translated by Maria Boulding, OSB – St. Augustine (2007-04-01). The Confessions (1st Edition; Study Edition) (Kindle Locations 750-752). New City Press. Kindle Edition.

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