One time when I was the presider at the Holy Eucharist, I noticed an inscription on the rim of the chalice I was using. The inscription read, “fides spes caritas”. For those of us who are not fluent in Latin, myself included, we might easily overlook the inscription on the communion vessel. However, it might jump out at us again when we come across a statue of the Virgin Mary and notice the inscription, “vita, dulcedo, spes.” There’s that word again. Spes. What does it mean?
If we translate the inscription from the chalice into English, we discover “fides spes caritas” means “faith hope charity”, the three theological Christian virtues. And “vita, dulcedo, spes” translates to “life, sweetness, hope”, in that Mary is said to be our life, our sweetness, and our hope. The Latin spes means hope. We see the Latin root when we look at the Spanish word for hope, “esperanza”. That clears it all up, right? Now we know that spes means hope.
But what does hope mean in a Christian context? We all talk about hope all the time, perhaps even on a daily basis. “Gee, I hope my team wins the football game on Saturday!” “I sure hope it doesn’t rain today because I left my windows open.” “I hope my Amazon package arrives today.” “I hope I can find my car keys so I’m not late for work.” We can see from its common usage that hope seems to bring with it some kind of anticipatory quality. But this is not the Christian meaning of hope. This usage of the word is more along the lines of optimism. Optimism certainly is not a bad thing, but it is not a virtue in the way the hope is a virtue.
Optimism is the idea that everything will work out for us. Optimism is looking on the bright side. The virtue of hope is much deeper and much more complex than simply planning on the best outcome. An optimist might be described as someone who lacks all the necessary information and anticipates that the missing pieces will fall into place for the better. A hopeful person is one who does not give up, even when things are bad. Hope is what keeps us from despair. Hope is related to its sister virtues, also printed on the side of that chalice, faith and charity. Hope is something we attain through faith. When we have faith in Jesus, we have hope. Hope is our strength to endure in all situations, even under the worst of circumstances.
Another difference between optimism and hope is that hope requires effort. Optimism might be the belief that everything will be fine, but hope requires us to put in the work to ensure that everything does turn out fine. When we are living into the virtue of hope, we refrain from giving up. We do all that is in our power to persevere. This certainly is not always easy to do and it is much more difficult than it would be to simply believe that things are going to get better without any effort of our own. Hope gives us deep confidence that God provides us with encouragement, guidance, and assistance in heeding his call. It is passive, and sometimes easy, to be optimistic. It is far more challenging and demanding for us to be hopeful. When we are hopeful, we trust in God, we rely on his word, and we put in the effort to follow him as the scriptures teach us to do.
When I observe St. John’s in action, I see a community full of virtue, including hope. I see a community dedicated to absorbing the Good News of Jesus Christ and then bringing it out into the world and sharing it with the people. When you gather together once a month to prepare and serve meals to the veterans in our community, you are helping them to experience hope. When you gather together for community outreach like Daughters of the King, Women Unlimited, Faith Through the Arts, or the Men’s Fellowship, you are perpetuating hope. When you welcome a stranger and invite that person to sit with you and you show that person the ins and outs of our worship services, you are sharing hope. When you provide a meal or a blessing bag to a person in need, you are sharing with that person a glimpse of hope. The virtue of hope is sometimes challenging, but it is very fulfilling. When there is hope, there can be joy. Joy is more than happiness. Joy is an overall state of mind. Feeling sad from time to time does not mean a person is not joyful. In the same way, feeling frustrated from time to time does not mean a person is not hopeful.
Hope is intangible. It’s in the air. It’s in the DNA of an environment. It is difficult to explain, but we sure know it when we experience it. I am proud to be a part of a community that truly lives into the virtues inscribed on that chalice. St. John’s is a place of truly devout and inquisitive faith. It is a community that actively spreads hope into the world. And it is a community that exercises charity, the loving of God above all things and the loving of our neighbors as ourselves. When our community lives a virtuous life, the virtue becomes contagious. When others experience virtue in action, they instinctively want more of it. Let’s continue to spread the virtues of faith hope and charity in the world and encourage others to do the same. Where there is virtue, there is love. And where there is love, there is joy.