Christmas is the season of hope. Let us reflect on this word hope.
Joseph Pieper, a famous German 20th-century author and philosopher, wrote a book on this one virtue, and I write a brief commentary on his book Leisure here.
Hope, to Pieper, is not a concept in which we have to wait for the end of time or the end of physical/earthly suffering. No, hope to Pieper was not simply something in the distant future but rather something that we can begin to attain now. It was to him a continued becoming into fulfillment.
Despair, in contrast, is when you fail to realize you are destined for fulfillment. It, to him, is an anticipation of nonfulfillment. It is a sign of depression. "It doesn't matter what I do; nothing will ever change."
This conclusion comes about from a false understanding of the nature of man being made in the image and likeness of God. When you despair you in effect are saying, "God has set things up in such a way." "It is not possible to be any better." But you were called to be better. You were made for something more. The longings of the human heart speak to this. Christ incarnate speaks to this.
More importantly, it is tempting for people who have suffered greatly to think that circumstances of life have conspired against them in such a way that they must simply accept what has happened to them. For example, "If I was raised in an unloving home, then I am unlovable. I, too, am incapable of showing and receiving love. I, therefore, give up on living a life of self-respect and dignity."
How do we get out of this despair?
It is in magnanimity coupled with that hope within you, along with the capacity and aspiration of the soul for great things. It is not grandiosity, it is not an unrealistic expectation, but a right perception of the call that God has given, knowing, appreciating, and accepting great things into yourself no matter how small.
As St. Therese noted, the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the Lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. She understood that nature would lose her springtime beauty if all the flowers wanted to be roses.
Hope is in seeing and anticipating the springtime beauty that we all play a part in, even while being a simple daisy, even in the midst of suffering and loss.
In his cometary of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Aquinas mentions that happiness comes in doing good and seeing the good in all things that lead us to the ultimate good. This ultimate good being God. Augustine says; our hearts are restless until they rest in you oh Lord.
St. Pope John Paul II says it another way,
"It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; He is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is He who provoked you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise."
The Christmas season allows us to see the good in all things. It is that which fuels our hope because we begin to see the world vertically, a hierarchy of goods, in which all goods lead to the ultimate good. How proper it is to be at the end of the year and when winter's day is upon us.
The world wants us to find hope in it. This hope will only lead to despair because we are not meant for this world. Instead of finding happiness in small things and ordering them to universal goods and the ultimate good, we seek them as ends in and of themselves. Worldly goods come and go. How is it that you can hope in something you were not made for?
Secular culture cannot offer hope, for hope goes hand in hand with truth and good.
The best our culture can offer us is optimism, however optimism lacks truth and knowledge. For the Christian, hope is optimism with certainty.
G.K Chesterton tells us that, "If we talk of a certain thing being an aspect of truth [or good], it is evident that we claim to know what is truth; just as if we talk of the hind leg of a dog, we claim to know what is a dog. Unfortunately, the philosopher who talks about aspects of truth generally also asks, "What is truth?" Frequently even he denies the existence of truth, or says it is inconceivable by the human intelligence. How, then, can he recognize its aspects?" He says, of course, there are truths in Kipling, in Shaw, and in Wells just as there are goods in all things, but the degree that we see these truths and goods depends strictly upon how far we have a definite conception inside us of what is truth, what is good. He continues, "It is ludicrous to suppose that the more skeptical [secular] we are, the more we see good in everything. It is clear that the more we are certain what good is, the more we shall see good in everything." G.K. Chesterton
The Christmas season reminds us that this ultimate truth, the ultimate good, and ultimate love we long for, "God" became incarnate, so we can experience Him and thus see what is true and good in all things. In this way, all things can aid us in our life of fulfilment every step of the way to our ultimate ends, eternal life. Scripture calls this process sanctification. The birth of Christ, inaugurating redemption, reveals to us a new, dependable, visible and understandable hope.
Odell Terrell is a mental health counselor in Greensboro, NC. He graduated with a MS in Counseling from Divine Mercy University in Arlington, VA, and places an emphasis on working with spiritual integration, adults and adolescents, trauma, family and children, and grief and loss. Odell received his undergraduate degree from the University of St. Leo's in St. Leo Florida, with a degree in Psychology. He has spent his last 15 years working in the field of emergency services. It is in working with people in emergency situations, both patients and first responders, that Odell has learned how to deal respectively with people in crises mode, helping instill a sense of hope and healing. Odell is happily married, for 17 years, and is the father of 9 children and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to his family and child therapy practice.