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Living Water
to Light the Journey


Chapter Eighteen

Hope



Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”, aim at earth and you will get neither.

C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity

 

Do you need to be a saint to have hope in this world? Sometimes it seems so.

 

Hope is, in the words of American philosophy professor Peter Kreeft, the “forgotten virtue in our time, for hope means hope for Heaven, and modernity’s nose-to-the-grindstone this-worldliness dares not lift its eyes to the open skies”.

 

Hope is one of the three spiritual virtues; the other two are faith and love. It refers to the Christian hope of a better life to come in the next world. For the Christian it is more a case of expectation than of actual hope. Unable to prove the existence of a heaven, the Christian nevertheless confidently expects to end up there. And this faith finds expression in the response to God’s promises.

 

As C.S. Lewis has commented, the Christians who have done most for this world have been those who thought most about the next. He cited the case of the English evangelicals who abolished the slave-trade, and commented acerbically: “It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.”

 

Mary MacKillop had hope, and it infused her life with a passion to help the poor and afflicted. She is Australia’s first saint. Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1995, and as a result she can be called a saint within this country. The next step is canonisation, so her sainthood can be recognised worldwide.

 

Born in 1842, MacKillop grew up knowing poverty. As a young woman she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph, an Order dedicated to alleviating the lot of the poor. At a time when many convents were homely places, with Sisters who catered for the spiritual and educational needs of the well-to-do, St. Joseph put the emphasis on poverty.

 

The Sisters, according to their own rules, had to “educate the poor, be unknown and poor themselves, and give themselves wholly to God”. They could not own property or receive money. All food and money for the Order came from charity. Under MacKillop’s leadership the Order worked for the poor and the sick, for those in prison or in mental asylums, and for the aged. It started refuges for women and for neglected children.

 

Her life was full of drama. There were continuing battles with enemies inside the church. At one point she was actually excommunicated, charged with “disobedience and rebellion”. Another time, she travelled to Rome to meet the Pope.

 

Unfortunately, in what at times seems a deliberate attempt to isolate our youth from their spiritual roots, some writers and commentators sometimes use the Christian doctrine of hope to present a distorted image of Christianity. It is not uncommon for academic texts on, say, ethics, to teach that Christianity is an ethic of selfishness - that Christians are good only because they want to make it to heaven. Or they teach that Christianity tries to frighten non-believers into joining the religion by threatening them with the fires of hell if they decline.

 

There is no doubt that Christian leaders and organisations have sometimes tried to shock people into church membership, and that once they got them in they have tried to frighten them into remaining. Such tactics can be seen even today.

 

Yet the central Christian message is really one of a loving relationship with God. It is also a message of hope. And it is the loss of hope for the eternal that has led to so much despair in our society. When we are taught overwhelmingly by our culture that there is no hope beyond our present lives, people will live for the present, with little concern for others.

 

As James Q. Wilson wrote, in his wonderful book The Moral Sense:

 

If you are tempted to take the criminal route to the easy life, you may go further along that route if everywhere you turn you hear educated people saying - indeed ‘proving’ - that life is meaningless and moral standards arbitrary.

 

It was because Mary MacKillop occupied her mind with heaven that she set her heart so effectively on helping the underprivileged, and making Australia a finer and prouder country. For Jesus taught his followers, in the Lord’s Prayer, to cry out for - and therefore to work for - the kingdom of God on earth, as in heaven.

 

By contrast, it is sad to see today’s youth brought up believing that religion is dry and based on selfishness. Their natural idealism and spirituality become channelled into desires to achieve power and to make more money. They have succumbed to helpless, hopeless despair.

 

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