Hope, Part 2: Eternal Perspective

Continued from Hope, Part 1: The Four-Letter Word

I have never wanted to fall for wishful thinking – I have only ever wanted the truth. Before I became a true-believing Christian, as a preteen, teenager, and young adult, I viewed Heaven as a comforting fairytale and a false hope. Coming to know the real Christ, however, and growing in relationship with him, my understanding of Heaven was inevitably going to change.

I am still growing in my understanding….

I love life here and now and I love God, here and now. There is still a small part of me that is fighting against the thought of Heaven, not wanting to be patronized like a child told to hope.

However… I’m beginning to understand that I am behaving like a child by fighting the reality of Heaven….

Hope Is a Virtue

As a believing Christian and committed practitioner of the Catholic Faith, I know that I must take seriously the theological definition of hope:

“a Divine virtue by which we confidently expect, with God’s help, to reach eternal felicity as well as to have at our disposal the means of securing it.”[1]

“Eternal felicity”….

“Confidently expect”…

Hope As Part of the Big Three

The theological virtue of hope presupposes belief in the existence of eternal life and, specifically, in the existence of “eternal felicity”, or, namely, Heaven. Hope, then, is a firm faith, or kind of knowledge, that one can, through Christ, enter into this eternal life, because the way through which to enter it is given to us by God in Christ Jesus.

I had been thinking that it shouldn’t be hope that helps Christians through rough trials and tribulations. I had been thinking that faith is what does that – the assent, the trust in, and the commitment to God and to what God has revealed. But, if it is not to be mere wishful thinking, then hope, which is that “confident expectation” of “eternal felicity”, is a result of faith. It’s the natural living out of faith.

And that faithful, “confident expectation” that is hope can only exist and be realized through love.

The Reality of God’s Love

Although I am naturally an optimistic and content person, there are, of course, many times when I have been laid low by my disease and disability. In these times, I have been sustained and carried by love… By my love for life and for my family – and by my family’s love for me. Now that I have given myself in faith to the reality of God, I know that this sustaining love comes from God’s love. And believing Christians experience spiritual aid and comfort, not only from human love, but also (and more deeply and profoundly because it is the source of human love) from God’s love and the willingness and eagerness to love God in return.

Christianity is not all about rewards after death – it is fundamentally about the giving and receiving of divine love from pure and generous hearts. I understand, now, that “eternal felicity”, that Heaven, is the reality of God and God’s love for me. And so, too, is the divine disposal of “the means of securing it”. We can never earn Heaven or wishfully think our way into it – it is purely God’s gift, freely and graciously given to all who are willing to receive it.

As a committed lover of God, I am willing to receive all that God wills to give to me.

And, so, yes – Heaven is real, and hope is good.

Living Hope Every Day – Eternal Perspective

One way that I think that we can describe the practice and the effect of the theological virtue of hope in our lives is as eternal perspective. One can say that one believes in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life of the world to come. But, does that belief influence and effect one’s daily life? To live in hope is to have an eternal perspective in the mundane living of every day. For, surely, if one is confidently expectant of something, then one lives in preparation and readiness of its coming.

Real life example: let’s say you’re arguing with someone whom you truly love. The argument won’t last forever and the two of you may even forget the very thing over which you were fighting. Because you truly love each other, you will forgive each other and continue to live your relationship rooted in that love. The argument is finite. But the love experienced, expressed, and manifested through your relationship is infinite, it belongs to eternity – because it is the experience, expression, and manifestation of God’s eternal love, which is the Source and Sustainer of all love. And, so, even in the midst of the argument, you can step back for a moment and regain this eternal perspective. Having this eternal perspective fosters the true forgiveness, healing, and continuation of your relationship’s joyful love, which is carried into eternity itself.

Eternal felicity.

My Hope

So, I don’t do this-or-that hoping, like some kind of wishful, fingers-crossed-wanting, that it will turn out fabulous in the end. I live with confidence. I trust in God’s Word and, so, have faith that eternity is real. The things of God last forever and other things don’t. This knowledge, this “confident expectation”, our Christian hope, is the fruit of our Christian faith, brought into true being and sustained through Christian love.

Thankfully, God is merciful… If my human weakness cannot yet handle the word, then I do not need to think of this thing called “hope”. I need only to live it.

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase


[1] http://newadvent.org/cathen/07465b.htm

Hope, Part 1: The Four-Letter Word

Hope for a Cure

Another Labor Day has come and gone and with it, for me, vague feelings of nostalgia, anxious excitement, dread, and a kind of contempt for hopeful people. I was literally a poster child for neuromuscular disease. Here’s the proof on a national poster:

1980 poster MDA blog

And as Poster Child for my local chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association, in 1980 and 1982, I traveled the state of New Hampshire, smiling so long and so often that cheek-ache became a familiar sensation of childhood. The climax of my duties was to appear on our local cutaways of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon. Little, blonde, smiling and dimpled girl that I was, sitting in my wheelchair, I would look into the camera, speak into the microphone, and tell people to help fight MD.

It was at the MDA events and, especially, the Telethon, that I was surrounded by the hopeful people.

People used to tell me, with smiles, sweet voices, and encouragement, that I should keep hoping that a cure would be found for my disease and that I would be able to walk someday. But, I don’t remember having this as a real hope… maybe more like a fantastic wish. My mother tells me, however, that I once expressed belief that becoming Poster Child for MDA would mean that I would be able to walk. We can imagine, then, the disappointment that I must have felt at 5 years old when I became Poster Child and remained crippled – my hope so utterly unfulfilled.

An Amused Cynic

Despite having my hopes dashed, I want to make it clear that I was not a bitter child. I was generally and genuinely happy, finding joy in little things and easy to smile. I don’t even remember getting my hopes dashed. Whenever people mentioned that word “hope”, however, I remember within me an inner smirk of cynicism. Those people who were fighting so relentlessly for a cure, rallying me and believing that I would be able to walk one day – those people were sadly and foolishly falling for wishful thinking. And I never wanted to be a fool like that.

Entering my teen years and throughout those years, I developed a vague, unvoiced dislike for these hopeful people, overly enthusiastic, sappily patronizing people, so full of wishes and happy thoughts that any fairy would swear that they could fly.

Hope became a four-letter word to me. And somewhat amusing.

Hope of Heaven

There was another kind of hope that was introduced to me at an early age, because of my upbringing in the Catholic Church. The Christian understanding is that one’s ultimate and truest happiness will be found in Heaven. The sufferings we endure in this life will bring us great reward in the next. So, I remember, as a child, being taught and believing that I would walk in Heaven. My mother also tells me of my reaction on first hearing this from my older sister, when she came home excitedly one day from religious education. I was about 3 years old. On hearing from my sister that I would be able to walk after I died and went to Heaven, I exclained joyfully that I wanted to die. Hearing these words from her little daughter, my mother understandably tried to talk me out of my desire by informing me that she, my father, and my sister would not be with me in Heaven after I died. Loving my family so very much and only feeling comfortable and safe when I was with them, I stopped desiring Heaven.

That explains a lot, too.

Imagine There’s No Heaven

It is important to note that I have never truly wanted to die, for I have a natural and deep love for life, here and now. My general disposition is as a glass half-full kind of person. And I love what is real, because it is real. Not wanting to be a fool and not wanting to be cajoled, it isn’t much wonder that I became vehemently against the “comforting” hope of the afterlife.

“Poor thing,” people might say to me, “at least you know that you will have a wonderful life in Heaven where all your dreams will come true.” The hope of Heaven became something of a consolation prize for the losing hand that I was dealt or a kind of life-raft to which I was supposed to cling. But, I would have none of that. First of all, I knew that I, myself, was not a loser. Second of all, I didn’t want to cling to anything to help me “get through” life, as if I couldn’t hack it on my own. So opposed was I to this offered hope that it was one of the reasons that I became an atheist for a short while, around the age of 20. I wanted to prove that a didn’t need the vague hope of Heaven, that I didn’t need God to be happy. As John Lennon once sang, “Imagine there’s no Heaven – it’s easy if you try.”

Unexpected Cure

I have always loved the truth and will pursue it, no matter what. It isn’t that I hoped to find the truth, but, rather, that I was determined to uncover it. As an atheist, I really thought that I had revealed all the myths and fairytales and wishful thinking for the errors that they were, that I knew the truth.

But, the final discovery that I made was an unexpected and unwanted one: that which we call God is true. More on that story in another post. I have, thankfully, been cured of the spiritual deafness and blindness of atheism, although it was a long journey into Christianity. Now, as a believing Christian, devoted member of the Catholic Church, I still struggle with the belief that everything will be made “right” with eternal rewards in Heaven. By struggle, I mean that I don’t want to be coaxed into accepting suffering or into being good with the promise of some future treat, like a child. One thing I despise is to be patronized.

Now What?

But, if Hope is a theological virtue, then it can’t be a “four-letter word”. What do I do then, as a believer in Christ Jesus, with this thing called hope?

To be continued next week…

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

Righteous Not Riotous

There are so many miscommunications in the course of a normal day. Just small, trivial things and, yet, they can be so very frustrating. I don’t know how many times I have rolled my eyes or grit my teeth in aggravation. And then there are the habits of the people with whom I live – the simple, normal things that they do every day… over and over… inexhaustibly… things that can just plain annoy and irritate me to no end.

And then I wonder why people riot in the streets against real injustice…?

I in no way support or condone the recent actions of the rioters in Baltimore – they were being meaninglessly destructive, violent, and, well, stupid. There is no cause for such ridiculousness. Whatever cause they think that they were acting out for was completely lost and obliterated amongst their rioting. They were being punks and should be ashamed of their actions.

And, yet… When I am frustrated, irritated, and angry, do I not envision violence in my mind? Do I not want to hurt people with my words, slam my hand against the wall, or just break something? I hold back, I don’t do these things – like most human beings. But, there is an instinct within me, within all of us, to react violently, to wreck something when we are feeling wrecked, to basically freak out when our emotions overwhelm us. Usually, however, we don’t fall apart and descend into madness, into rash rioting, looting, arson, and assault. We may imagine that it would be a pleasurable release to throw a brick through a window or to grab and steal something that we want just because we want it – but we know better. We, if we are not mentally ill, know that that temporary release, that temporary and mad pleasure, will only lead to a mess that needs to be cleaned up, broken relationships that need to be healed, wildernesses that will need to be escaped – consequences that will demand to be met. And, so, we control ourselves, with true courage and strength, we remember who we are and we do not let ourselves disappear into chaos.

The brave person of consequence is the one who will never have to run away from the consequences of his or her actions – because that person has done nothing shameful. That person thinks before acting. Those who are peacefully protesting in Baltimore for justice and a decisive end to police brutality, those who are standing up for what is right, for positive and concrete change, appealing to human reason and compassion boldly, with no hesitation – they are heroic. For, unlike the morally and spiritually weak person, the truly strong person chooses love instead of hate, chooses building up instead of destroying, chooses correction and true justice that makes things better – instead of vengeance and violence that only makes things worse.

In my own simple life, I know that it is hope that will allow me to be the better person – the strong and brave person that I am created to be.

And from where comes this hope?

So many people are aimless and hopeless. There are far too many news stories of young people committing random acts of violence. Far too many police officers caught on camera being vicious and brutal, abusing their power to the point of killing. And there are far too many cell phone videos of groups of teenagers whooping it up as a mob of them beats up a defenseless person. What is wrong here??? What I ask is – where is the mercy?

Perhaps… Where mercy lacks, hope is already absent.

Every person on earth wants to belong – that’s because God made us and we belong to God. To belong to a mob of brutality can never satisfy that desire… for our hearts are restless until they take rest in God’s love. Lives of mere pleasure and gain are easily devastated and lost – because they are empty without the core of being, without God… for true joy can only come in fulfilling our eternally intended destiny. It seems like no one believes this anymore, even leaders in our nation don’t want to hear this kind of talk … so we need to testify.

If young people knew – and if we could all remember – that we are of divine origin, lovingly brought into being, not by creatures or happenstance, but by the Infinite Power that is the Creator of the universe entire…. If children and young adults knew – and if we could all remember – that we belong intimately to the Creator and Master of the universe, to whom we can never be lost and by whom we will never be abandoned…. If those wandering in darkness knew – and if we who have seen the light could remember – that we each have an eternal destiny that is unique and exquisitely particular for each of us as we are known by our Maker, who lovingly brings us into being for love…. If every human being knew that, no matter what happens in life, no one dies in vain – and no one lives in vain – as long as our souls remain rooted in Christ, in rightness, and, when wounded, we bind others’ wounds with love… then the hopeless would have hope, and the wayward would have direction, and the unloved would know love.

Naïve and overly optimistic? Maybe. But, how hard do you work in helping juvenile delinquents know that they are infinitely and intimately loved?

Okay, I didn’t mean to make you feel guilty with that question… well… maybe I did. But, if we, believers, don’t go out and tell people the truth, who will? I know that I need (as most of us need) to more bravely and consistently act on my beliefs – to be Christ to others and, so, bring others to Christ. And faithfully pray. We too often feel that we are powerless to change anything and we succumb to that powerlessness… and the stress of that only makes the descent into chaos worse – and more imminent. So, let’s remember our faith, our hope, our love, and let’s change the conversation.

Practical approach in my everyday life: I will think of the terrible waste that is the rioting in Baltimore whenever a small injustice – even of conversation, any kind of he said/she said – befalls me or someone that I know. When I am hurt or upset, I will think of how easy it is to descend into anger and destruction – and I will remember that I am made for more. Summoning my courage and my strength, I will remember that I am rooted in Christ and I will reflect mercifully upon the foibles of being human. I will remember God’s mercy. I will forgive myself and others. And I will overcome. I will lovingly forgive my adversaries, even the ones of a trivial moment, and I will put my energy and effort into building respectful relationships and joint works for the good of humankind, even just the work of deciding what’s for dinner – all through Christ the Lord.

May we all overcome. No matter how long it takes or how much it hurts, the truth of Life as Love will set us free.

© 2015 Christina Chase

Mercy Is Joy or It Is Nothing

What is a joyful Catholic? What is a joyful Christian? Let the answer not be: “a rarity”.

A joyful Christian is not someone who dwells in fear, mistrust, and misgivings. Rather, a joyful Christian is someone who lives in hope and trust and generosity. “By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:3.)We are not to go about in gloom, covered always in ashes and sackcloth, bemoaning and wailing the waywardness that is man, groveling in a flood of tears for our sins. Jesus died for our sins. He took on the responsibility of our waywardness and let himself be crucified for our sakes. And then… the glorious “and then”… Jesus rose from the dead. Because of the Resurrection, the true Christian dwells in joy. We are an Easter people.

People often say to me that I am an inspiration. This is not an uncommon thing for a person in a wheelchair to hear. But, not all of us will hear it. Simply being disabled is not very inspiring, after all. But – I am a naturally joyful person. God created me with a sense of humor, an easy smile, and a deep love for the beautiful in all things. When I became a Christian, therefore, it was easy for me to be a joyful Christian – because, even as an atheist (when God spoke to me in secret, a secret kept even from me) God has always spoken to me in the language of joy. So, when people see me all crumpled up in my wheelchair – and genuinely smiling – they are inspired. Loss and limitations, disease and suffering, deformity and pain, fragile body and pending death – none of these things can kill the joy in the human heart, the joy placed there by God. To know this is, indeed, divine inspiration. I did not create it nor do I produce it – it is a gift from God, it is the gift of God, flowing through me.

Today, on this Divine Mercy Sunday, two great popes are being canonized by the Catholic Church as saints. And I am struck by what these two men have in common. Yes, yes, they were both popes. But, they were also, perhaps most importantly, joyful Christians. John XXIII was known for his smiles, jokes and friendliness, his enthusiasm for people. And John Paul II, more widely known by people in our time, was renowned for his love of life and his joy in all things beautiful – especially his joy in humanity. Oh, these men knew suffering, deep suffering. And these men spent many hours on their knees, these men cried and wept, these men could be angered by injustice – but nothing squelched the joy. The joy that is Christ, Christ Risen, Christ Glorified. Alleluia.

Jesus, while he walked and talked upon the earth, told his followers over and over again, “Be not afraid.” If we truly have faith, that is, if we truly trust in God, then what do we have to fear? If we have hope, believing in the resurrection of Christ, who is our living hope, then we not only know mercy, but we are revolutionized by mercy, living it day in and day out. And if we have love, true love… then we know true joy, deep, eternal joy.

And we are ever and always an Easter people.

Let us go to those who are wounded, and to those who inflict wounds, and let us pour out the healing mercy of God with all of our faith, with all of our hope, and with all of our love. With the knowing peace that is joy! Let us live the mercy of God, thus living the fullness of humanity, the fullness of life.

© 2014 Christina Chase