The Pope reminds us that we can have hope because we have a great goal: our salvation. That goal is “not simply a given,” he says. We can hope for something for two reasons: because it’s possible to attain, but also difficult. If it was a sure thing, we wouldn’t have to hope for it, we would just take it for granted. But we can’t take our salvation for granted because it depends on our cooperation with grace.
2. Faith is hope
Here Benedict reflects on the relationship between faith and hope. In a sense, he says, they are interchangeable. The solid basis for our hope is our faith in God. Because we know God, we can have hope and rest secure in the knowledge that as Christians, we “have a future.” While we don’t know the details, we do know that eternal life with God awaits us after death.
In this context, Benedict mentions the example of St. Josephine Bakhita. Born in Sudan, at the age of nine she was captured and sold into slavery. He recounts the story of her extreme sufferings, and of how she was rescued and found faith and hope in God.
3. The concept of faith-based hope in the New Testament and the early Church
In this section, the Pope speaks like a professor—wouldn’t it be great to be in one of his classes? He talks about the concept of faith in the New Testament. First he mentions how the encounter with Christ is not something abstract, but can change our lives. That is what attracted people to it in the beginning of the Church. By Baptism we meet this loving God who personally cares about us and our destiny.
Benedict mentions how in ancient Rome both poor people and those from upper classes found hope in Christianity. In ancient Christian tombs, Christ was often presented in one of two ways: as a philosopher, and as a shepherd. As a philosopher he teaches us the meaning of life and death. The shepherd leads us through the path of death to life.
Then Benedict goes on to give an extended exegesis of the famous text from Hebrews on faith (11:1): “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Eternal life—what is it?
Benedict probes the idea of eternal life. First he recalls the classical rite of Baptism. In presenting their child, the priest says, “What do you ask of the Church?” Answer: “Faith.”
“And what does faith give you?”
This is the ultimate goal, what gives sense to our whole life. Yet Benedict discusses how we often feel conflicted about eternal life. On the one hand, we want to keep on living and the idea of death frightens us. On the other hand, the prospect of endless living on earth is frightening also. Who would want to live forever on earth, with all its pain, trials, and sufferings? This is the paradox we face.
Quoting a letter of St Augustine to the Roman widow Proba, Pope Benedict says that we are seeking “the blessed life,” which is equated with happiness. The Pope then says that we sometimes have a problem with the idea of eternal life because we can’t help but think of it in earthly terms. Yet it is completely different. It is not an endless succession of time, one thing after another. Instead, he compares it to “plunging into the ocean of infinite, a moment in which time—before and after—no longer exists.”
It will be like we are completely enveloped in love, and in that moment we will be overwhelmed with endless joy.