Combative Hope

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combative hope
Combative hope

It’s one of those wonderful oxymorons:

combative hope. And makes no sense at all until you let it sink in. Slowly. And then the phrase hits home because combat is part and parcel of life. All life.

You disagree?

Consider the time energy and sheer grit it took to get to where you are, wherever that is. Weren’t there times that you wanted to just give in?

  • Walk away from needy children?
  • Or suddenly unlovely spouse?
  • Or the education that got you the job you have now?

Weren’t they combat? And wasn’t the hemorrhaging from the wounds sometimes a flood?

Our lives are composed of many battles. A theme I’ve written about a  time or two.

I first came across the phrase, combative hope, in In Him Alone is Our Hope: The Church According to the Heart of Pope Francis. It was released just after the man, Jesuit priest Fr. Jorge Borgoglio, who no one had ever heard of, became Pope.

Pope Francis wrote his book from a series of talks given to his fellow priests about the Ignatian Spritiual Exercises. Lest you presume this has no relevance to you, or your life I think some of the material found in In Him Alone Is Our Hope has extraordinary relevance for each of us.

The Pope suggests that we pray for the grace of a combative hope. Here are his words:

This spiritual hope is much more than mere optimism. It is not full of fan- fare, nor is it afraid of silence. Rather, it penetrates deep down within us, like sap in winter roots. Hope is certain, and it is the Father of Truth who gives it to us. Hope discerns between good and evil. It does not worship at the altar of success: falling into optimism; nor is it content with failure: wallowing in pessimism. Because hope discerns between good and evil, it is called to do combat. Yet it fights without anxiety or illusion, with the assurance of one who knows that he pursues a sure goal…

A stumbling block of the Ignatian spiritual exercises is what has come to be called Ignatian Indifference.

At least it is for me. Perhaps not for Pope Francis. Former soldier St. Ignatius instructs his students not to prefer one person over another, riches or poverty, sickness or health. But to regard each of these equally:

In this “post Christian” era, the word hope has become a passive verb describing a weak and timid emotion.

When Pope Francis calls us to the theological virtue of combative hope, he understands the need for a phrase which will knock us off our pews to get our attention, to tell us that this is not the wishy-washy, tentative concept that we call hope but the theological virtue of Hope: Combative Hope.

Then we can begin to intuit that the Pope is not discussing a mere word, one which can be replaced with a synonym without alteration of the meaning or even a euphemism but Something More. Rather that this “Combative Hope” is the Word. Moreover, that these theological virtues of faith, hope and charity are not mere words but are each infused with the Spirit of Christ.

Think of Paul’s explanation of faith: “The realization of what is hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.” Sense the immense power, mystery and splendor in this, the first of the theological virtues and dimly grasp the Presence suggested by these words.

Perhaps, like me, you had understood the virtues to be mere words, nouns to be sure, but not fully apprehending the Person who imbues these virtues with Strength and Wisdom far beyond our meager capacities.

Perhaps, like me, you now see hope as a Person; through whom we can wage combat on our frailties; through whom we can come to Love all persons- including those who wage war on our ideas, beliefs and institutions.

That last phrase is worth repeating:

Because hope discerns between good and evil, it is called to do combat. Yet it fights without anxiety or illusion, with the assurance of one who knows that he pursues a sure goal…

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