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.”
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
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
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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