From Hope to Love
I was struck by the second reading this past Sunday, especially the words in bold:
Since everything is to be dissolved in this way,
what sort of persons ought you to be,
conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted by fire.
But according to his promise
we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3: 11-13)
In the second letter of Peter, we were exhorted to “await” and to “hasten” because of the Lord’s promise for a new creation. It reminded me of the adage to consider the way we live by remembering that this life is temporary. Such considerations speak to me of the theological virtue of hope, which for Augustine was to live grounded in the promise of eternal life given to us by the saving mystery of Christ.
Augustine writes of hope in Letter 155 to Macedonius, a Roman governor, and teaches that true and lasting happiness cannot be found in this life, but must be longed for in the life to come. The basis of this hope is trust in God’s promises (Letter 155.4). Like the second reading this past Sunday, Augustine holds that faith in the promises and resurrection of Christ establishes grounds for hope. Therefore, Augustine encourages Macedonius (and us) to bear trials joyfully, in patient expectation of this future happiness, and to make choices oriented toward the life to come.
One contemporary psychologist who has researched the topic of life orientation is Veronika Huta at the University of Ottawa. Huta writes that most people are oriented toward a combination of 1) personal growth (it includes meaning and authenticity), 2) enjoyment (such as pleasure), and 3) extrinsic motivations (such as power, image, money). Some people are inclined more towards one, and some people are inclined more towards another. You could think about how you make choices and spend your time. Consider whether you also make choices oriented toward the life to come.
In Book XIII of the Confessions Augustine describes the future happiness of heaven as the eternal sabbath of rest where we will delight and rejoice in God forever. What moves us there, he says, is our love kindled by the fire of God’s love (Confessions XIII.IX.10). We can ask ourselves: How can the fire of God’s love be rekindled in us this Advent as we “await new heavens and a new earth”?
Since the promises of Christ and his own resurrection establish our ground for hope, then we could look to Christ himself as the one who can rekindle us with the fire of divine love. In turning to Christ and recalling the times we have experienced His love, we begin to reorient ourselves. We can then extend his love freely and without expectations to others, and in this way we can be an instrument of Christ so that others are kindled by the experience of being loved.
Oftentimes we can be motivated to give to those who reciprocate, even during this season such as in the practice of sending Christmas cards. What if this year we add a couple of people to our list to whom we have never sent a card? It would be a simple beginning to be oriented toward the life to come and an expression of the spirit of Christian love.