I was at Eucharistic adoration this past week, reading the Bible, and I came across a passage that I had never read before. It is from Lamentations, attributed to Jeremiah, as he laments the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans in 586 B.C. Amidst the lamentation, there are moments of hope in God's love and faithfulness. The passage I have been reflecting on this week is Lamentations 3:21-23:
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness.
Verses 24-33 are also very meaningful to me, but I want to focus on 21-23, because I have been thinking about the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (love).
The Cathecism of the Catholic Church (CCC) tells us that "The theological virtues are the foundation of Christian moral activity" and that "They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being" (paragraph 1813).
The CCC defines the theological virtues this way:
Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself (1814).
Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit" (1817).
Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for love of God (1822).
The CCC is so helpful. We are reminded that faith is not simply believing in God (as has often been pointed out, Satan believes in God), but in doing what God asks us to do. How do we know what God asks us to do? Through prayer, and through the teaching of the magisterium. We need our own personal discernment and the discernment of 2,000 years of prayerful people listening to God.
Christian hope is not a vague, fuzzy optimism. Christian hope is about getting our priorities straight (making eternal life with God the most important goal of our lives), finding solace in the reliability of Jesus' word, and not placing our hope in ourselves or the world.
Charity is about discovering the Source of love, becoming like a torch, lit by that source, and going out to light the world with the fire of that love.
Here are some of my favorite passages from the New Testament related to the theological virtues:
As he [Jesus] entered Capernaum, a centurion came forward to him, beseeching him and saying, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." And he said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion answered him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and sit at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth." And to the centurion Jesus said, "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed at that very moment. (Matthew 8:5-13)
This is a cautionary tale to Catholics that while "there is no salvation outside the Church," that does not mean that everyone who is a baptized Catholic will be saved, nor does it mean that all who are not baptized Catholics will not be saved. As Jesus reminds us, "Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required" (Luke 12:48). In addition, this is where we get the prayer we say immediately before receiving Jesus in the Eucharist: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed." (In the U.S., the English translation we will be saying at mass in a few years will be closer to the Latin text, which is closer to the scriptural text.)
Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence. (1 Peter 3:15)
To have true Christian hope, we must understand our faith. And then, knowing what a tremendous treasure we have been given, we must share that wealth with others, always in a charitable manner.
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
In his Farewell Discourse before his passion, Jesus orders us to love one another. But he is not talking about some sort of sentimental love, but rather a sacrificial love, because we are being told that we must love as He has loved us, and the way that He loved us was by laying down his life by being lifted up on a cross. This is why the way St. Paul tells husbands how to love their wives is so beautiful, and so daunting: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her" (Ephesians 5:25-26).
So in this new year, may we grow more deeply in the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.