Do you reach for your phone or turn on a TV or read a newspaper and find yourself feeling “overwhelmed, outmatched, even desperate”? Father Philip Bochanski, a priest of Philadelphia and executive director of Courage International offers a bit of a respite from everything we’re bombarded by in a new book The Virtue of Hope: How Confidence in God Can Lead You to Heaven. It’s instructional — catechetical — and inspiring, including profiles in courage from well-known names like Saint Augustine and lesser knowns like Caryll Houselander.
The book is in part a rallying cry to baptized Catholics and other Christians. He writes:
We know, as a matter of theology, as a matter of faith, that we have been granted the theological virtue of hope as an unmerited gift by virtue of our having been baptized. We’ve got it. Whether we understand it, whether we are practicing it, exercising it, developing it, or not, are different questions. What is obvious is that it is extremely difficult to live in the modern world with any semblance of serenity — perhaps even difficult to live here with any great degree of sanity — unless we learn to use well the theological virtue of hope which has been entrusted to us.
Living hope is something the world sure could use us to do. Father Bochanski reflects a little on the virtue and the call to take up this virtue with a new boldness, this virtue that “gives us the strength to preserve without losing heart” in an interview.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Is hope the greatest challenge of our time?
Father Philip Bochanski: It certainly feels like that sometimes. I’m not sure if the world is actually more violent or more unjust than it’s been in past generations, but the ubiquity of news outlets, social media, and “screens” brings even distant turmoil into our homes on a nearly constant basis. This creates not only fear, but a general pessimism that doubts if things could ever get better. Add this to the relativistic, practically atheist atmosphere of modern secular society, and you have a perfect storm: It’s worse than ever; we can’t possibly fix it; and there’s no one else to help.
Lopez: So many people seem so devoid of hope — I’m thinking of what people are sometimes referring to as suicide contagion. But as you write about, turn on the news, look at your phone — or look at your bills, assess all of what you’re facing on a given day, perhaps — everything can seem so overwhelming.
You write about how “the object of our hope is something that is supposed to be demanding, is supposed to be fearful or tough or difficult to obtain” as “startling to some, refreshing and freeing to others.” How can it be a game changer to see things in this way?
Father Bochanski: It’s natural to get frustrated with the difficulties of life, but two things make this frustration worse. One is the feeling of isolation: I must be the only one going through such difficulty, the only one who can’t get it together and handle things. Another is the idea that I ought to be able to figure it out and do it on my own. The first attitude is fostered by our curated, airbrushed, “everything is awesome” social-media culture, and the second by our hyper-evaluative, “what have you done for me lately” economic culture. St. Thomas’s insight that hope allows us to do something which is “demanding but possible” relieves this double burden. I’m not a terrible, helpless person because I’m struggling in this way and can’t figure it out on my own. It’s difficult because God is calling me to something supernatural — it goes beyond my natural abilities — and he never intended for me to do it on my own. Hope allows a person to trust in and to accept the guidance and help that God is offering so that one can do his will.
Read more at National Review