Patrick B. McGuigan
St. Thomas Aquinas taught there are three main theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity.
The Latin word “caritas” is translated strictly as “charity,” but is also rendered “love.” The most widely beloved expression of the trilogy is found in the first Epistle to the Corinthians, where love is designated the greatest gift of all.
To love passionately those who love us can seem the easiest of the three virtues.
And to those we love, we are charitable.
Faith? In difficult times, there’s the rub.
Once upon a time, in a story I believe is true, a loving father brought his son to Jesus of Nazareth.
The lad was possessed, it is reported in the Gospel of Mark, with a “mute spirit.” His disciples had been unable to throw out the demon, so the man then came to the Rabbi.
In dialogue, Jesus told him and the other witnesses, “Everything is possible to one who has faith.” The man replied, “I do believe! Help my unbelief.”
Jesus threw out the possessor, explaining later to his own followers, “This kind can only come out through prayer.”
When granted the desires of our heart, faith flows abundantly.
But hope, in these times of trouble, which (Thomas Paine wrote) “try men’s souls”?
How dare we grasp hope — cling to it and abide in it — come what may?
In his magnificent book, “Crossing the Threshold of Hope,” John Paul II (who left this vale of tears on April 1, 2005) centered the challenge of hope in the reality of fear, saying:
“I plead with you – never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”
How not to let fear conquer us?
A passionate poet, himself a man of faithful, sought truth in a time of personal despair.
Alfred Tennyson (1809-92) wrote after the death of a friend:
“I stretch lame hands of faith and grope, And gather dust and chaff, and call To what I feel is Lord of all, And faintly trust the larger hope.”
In a memoir of hope tinged with recollection of despair (The Gathering Storm, 1948), Winston Churchill looked back at long years when a great conflagration threatened, and then engulfed our planet.
He wrote: “Statesmen are not called upon only to settle easy questions. These often settle themselves. It is where the balance quivers, and the proportions are veiled in mist, that the opportunity for worldsaving decisions presents itself. Having got ourselves into this awful plight of 1939, it was vital to grasp the larger hope.”
Helen Keller (1880-1868) lived her entire life deaf, blind and mute, yet she had faith and love enough to assert:
“Hope sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”
Hope springs eternal, yes, and in diverse hearts.
Mine is rooted in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans (Chapter 15, verse 12, New American Bible), quoting Isaiah:
America is troubled, as is Mexico and Canada. Kashmir is fearful, as is Pakistan. Columbia is anxious, as is Australia. Egypt trembles, as does England. China quakes, as does Taiwan.
Through it all, I reach for the confidence of a woman who (her memoirs made clear) had frequent crises of despair and a troubled heart clinging to faith.
Mother Teresa of Calutta carried the torch, as quoted in a Times of India compilation (June 10, 2014):
“A joyful heart is like the sunshine of God’s love, the hope of eternal happiness, a burning flame of God.”
Sisters, Brothers, Friends: This spring, light the human heart’s burning flame.