PART 4 - The Unitive Way of the Perfect
Heroic Hope and Abandonment
"Against hope. . . in hope." Rom. 4: 18
As long as the Christian has not reached perfection, his hope lacks firmness; it is more or less unstable, in the sense that the soul sometimes allows itself to slip into presumption when all is going well, and to fall subsequently into a certain discouragement when some undertaking does not succeed. Above these fluctuations, heroic hope is characterized by invincible firmness and trusting abandonment, sustained by unwavering fidelity to duty. The heroic confidence of the saints is also shown by its effects: it restores the courage of others and arouses hunger and thirst after the justice of God.
The Council of Trent tells us: "We should all have a most firm hope in the help of God; for if we do not resist His grace, as He has begun the work of salvation in us, He will finish it, working in us both to will and to accomplish, as St. Paul says (Phil. 2: 13)." (2)
The invincible firmness of hope appears, we have seen, in the passive purification of the spirit when, to make us hope purely in Him, the Lord permits every human help to disappear. Then occur rebuffs, at times calumnies, which give rise to a certain mistrust in those who until then had been helpful. In addition, the tried soul has a clearer view of its own wretchedness; it is likewise at times depressed by illness, and must overcome strong temptations to discouragement or even to despair, proceeding from the enemy of all good. The soul must then hope supernaturally and heroically against all human hope, as St. Paul says of Abraham, who, although nearly a hundred years old, did not despair of becoming the father of a great number of nations, according to the promise which had been given to him: "So shall thy seed be." (3)
If this trial is courageously endured, hope grows stronger and stronger during it and is increased tenfold. However, it does not give us absolute certitude that individually we shall be saved, since that would require a special revelation; (4) but we hope increasingly for salvation with a certitude of tendency. Just as under the direction of Providence, the animal's instinct tends infallibly toward its end, the swallow toward the country to which it should return, so under the direction of faith in the divine promises we tend infallibly toward eternal life. (5)
This firmness in tending toward eternal life should be invincible because of the formal motive on which it rests: God who always aids us, according to His promises. In spite of rebuffs, contradictions, the sight of our wretchedness and our sins, we should always hope in God, who has promised His help to those who ask Him for it with humility, trust, and perseverance. "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you. . . . And which of you, if he ask his father bread, will he give him a stone? Or a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? . . . If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father from heaven give the good Spirit to them that ask Him!" (6) And if we must ask conditionally for temporal goods, in the measure in which they are useful to our salvation, we should ask unconditionally, humbly to be sure, but with absolute trust, for the graces necessary to persevere. And as St. Luke relates in the text just quoted, we should thus ask not only for the graces necessary for our sanctification, but for the Holy Ghost Himself, the gift par excellence. He is sent anew when the soul passes from one degree of charity to another that is notably higher, as it must be, for the soul to pass through the trials which are ordered precisely to this progress. Hope thus purified becomes invincible, according to the words of St. Paul, which have sustained the martyrs: "If God be for us, who is against us?" (7) The Lord has more than once said to His saints: "You shall lack help only when I lack power." St. Teresa of the Child Jesus used to say: "Even if I were the greatest sinner on earth, I should not have less trust in God, for my hope does not rest upon my innocence, but on God's mercy and omnipotence."
St. Paul grasped all the sublimity of this formal motive of hope when he wrote: "And lest the greatness of the revelations should exalt me, there was given me a sting of my flesh, an angel of Satan, to buffet me. For which thing thrice I besought the Lord that it might depart from me. And He said to me: My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly, therefore, will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful": (8) that is, I cease to trust in myself, that I may trust in God: "I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me." (9) It is expedient to say to oneself then, as a holy soul used to say: Of ourselves we are nothing, but through our Lord we are something, since He loves us and redeemed us by His blood.
The story is told that one day St. Philip Neri went through the cloisters of his monastery exclaiming in a loud voice: "I am in despair, I am in despair." His spiritual sons, astonished, said to him: "Is it possible, you, Father, who so many times have restored our trust?" Leaping joyfully, St. Philip replied in his characteristic way: "Yes, left to myself, I am hopeless; but by the grace of our Lord, I still have confidence." He had doubtless had a very strong temptation to discouragement, which he overcame in this fashion. He thus experienced the truth that one must be crushed in order to grow, to be configured to Him of whom Isaias says: "He was wounded for our iniquities." (10) St. Paul of the Cross had the same experience over a long period of years when he had to suffer in order to unify the Order of Passionists which he had founded, an order that was to bear especially the marks of our Savior's passion.(11)
Heroic hope manifests itself not only by its firmness, but by trusting abandonment to Providence and to the omnipotent goodness of God. Perfect abandonment differs from quietism because it is accompanied by hope and unwavering fidelity to duty, even in little things, from moment to moment, according to our Lord's words: "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in that which is greater." (12) He will receive the divine help to undergo martyrdom if necessary. Unwavering fidelity to the will of God signified in the duty of the present moment prepares the soul to abandon itself with entire confidence to the as yet unrevealed divine will of good pleasure, on which depend its future and eternity. The more faithful the soul is to the divine light received, the more it can abandon itself wholly to Providence, to divine mercy and omnipotence. Thus are harmonized in the soul the activity of fidelity and the passivity of abandonment, above restless, fruitless agitation and slothful quiet. At those times when all may seem lost, the soul repeats with the Psalmist: "The Lord ruleth me; and I shall want nothing. . . . For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff, they have comforted me." (13)
In its greatest difficulties, the tried soul remembers the holy man Job, who, after losing all he possessed, exclaimed: "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. As it hath pleased the Lord, so is it done. Blessed be the name of the Lord." (14) The tried soul should also repeat the words of the Book of Proverbs: "Have confidence in the Lord with all thy heart, and lean not upon thy own prudence. In all thy ways think on Him, and He will direct thy steps." (15) The Psalmist likewise says: "In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded." (16) When all seemed lost, St. Teresa used to say: "Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou canst do all, and Thou lovest me." To give oneself up to His love and in advance to accept all from this love rests the soul and makes it victorious over temptations to murmur. This temptation is sometimes formulated as follows: "O Lord, why dost Thou not come to my help?" We should remember that nothing escapes Providence, that the Lord watches over us, that there is a precious grace in the cross which He sends us, and that "His commiserations have not failed." (17) St. John of the Cross used often to say: "O heavenly hope, which obtains as much as it hopes for!"
Heroic hope, moreover, rests more and more on the infinite merits of our Savior, on the value of the blood He shed for us. No matter what happens, even though the world should crumble, we should hope in the good Shepherd, who gave His life for His sheep, and in God the Father, who, after having given us His own Son, cannot refuse to come to the aid of those who have recourse to Him.(18)
In The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena, the Lord says: "This true and holy hope is more or less perfect, according to the degree of love which the soul has for Me, and it is in the same measure that it tastes My Providence." (19) This spiritual taste is greatly superior to sensible consolations. In fact, not only does the perfect soul believe in Providence, but more and more discovers its manifestations where it least expected them. It tastes Providence by the gift of wisdom which shows it all things in God, even painful and unforeseen events, making it foresee the higher good for which He permits them.
In the same chapter of The Dialogue we read: "Those who serve Me disinterestedly, with the sole hope of pleasing Me, taste My Providence more than those who expect a recompense for their service in the joy which they find in Me. . . . Perfect and imperfect are the object of My attentions; I shall not fail any, provided they have not the presumption to hope in themselves." (20)
The more disinterested we are, the more we taste Providence see it in the course of our life, abandon ourselves to it and to the direction of our two great Mediators, who do not cease to watch over us. With trust in our Lord grows that in Mary, universal Mediatrix. She, who at the foot of the cross made the greatest act of hope when all seemed lost, merited to be called Mary Help of Christians, Our Lady of Perpetual Help. We know that frequent recourse to her is a special sign of predestination.
That the heroic confidence of the saints revives the hope of their companions is particularly evident in the lives of the founders of religious orders. When they had neither money nor human support, when vocations were lacking or slow in coming, when they met with scarcely anything but mistrust and contradiction, they placed their confidence in God and lifted up the hope of their first sons, who remained faithful. (21)
On more than one occasion miracles have rewarded their trust. When there was only a loaf of bread for the brethren of the convent of Bologna, St. Dominic gave the loaf to a poor man asking for alms. The saint put his trust in God, and angels came from heaven to bring the necessary bread to the religious.
Blessed Raymond of Capua relates that St. Catherine of Siena "was accustomed to say to us when some one of my brethren and I feared some peril: 'Why do you concern yourselves? Let divine Providence act. When your fears are greatest, it is always watching over you and will not cease to provide for your salvation.'" (22) Such is perfect, entirely trustful abandonment, united to sustained fidelity to daily duty.
The Lord Himself said to St. Catherine of Siena during very trying times: "My daughter, think of Me; if thou dost so, I shall unceasingly think of thee." (23) This trust in God enabled the saint to restore the courage of her companions during the exceptional mission entrusted to her of bringing the pope from Avignon to Rome, a mission which she accomplished in the midst of the greatest difficulties. The Sovereign Pontiff's entourage did everything possible to discredit the saint; in spite of this almost incredible opposition, the daughter of the dyer of Siena, trusting implicitly in our Lord, succeeded perfectly in her task.
How many discouraged souls, like young Nicholas Tuldo who was condemned to death, she raised up!
When she offered herself for the reformation of the Church, the Lord gave her the following counsel for herself and her spiritual children: "You ought to offer to Me the vessel of many fatiguing actions, in whatever way I send them to you, choosing, after your own fashion, neither place, nor time, nor actions. Therefore the vessel should be full, that is, you should endure all those fatigues with affection of love and true patience, supporting the defects of your neighbor, with hatred and displeasure of sin. . . . So, endure manfully, even unto death, and this will be a sign to Me that you love Me; and you should not turn your faces away and look askance at the plough, through fear of any creature or of any tribulation; rather, in such tribulations should you rejoice. . . . After your sorrow I will give you most sustaining consolation, with much substance in the reformation of the holy Church." (24)
The Lord sustains the hope of His saints by words like those He addressed to Joan of Arc in her prison: "Do not fail to esteem your martyrdom; as a result of it, you will finally come to the kingdom of paradise." The saints place their trust more and more in helpful omnipotence, saying to themselves: "God is stronger than all"; and their immolation itself is a triumph which configures them to our Savior. With Him they thus win the victory over sin and the devil. To persevere in the struggle, they ask the Lord to give them the sincere desire to share in His sacred humiliations, and in this desire to find strength, peace, and occasionally joy that they may revive the courage of those about them.
In the same proportion as charity grows, the fear of suffering diminishes
and that of sin increases without weakening trust. The
more closely we are united to God by charity, the more we fear sin,
which would separate us from Him, and the more we trust in Him who
loves us and draws us to Himself.(25)
1. Cf. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q. 17, a. 1; 2, 4, 5.
2. Council of Trent, Sess. VI, chap. 13; Denzinger, no. 806.
3. Rom. 4:18.
4. Cf. Council of Trent, ibidem.
5. St. Thomas, IIa IIae, q.18, a.4: "Certainty is found essentially in
6 Luke 11:9-13.
7. Rom. 8:31.
8. Cf. II Cor. 12:7-10.
9. Phil. 4:13.
10. Isa. 53:5.
11. Cf. Father Cajetan of the Holy Name of Mary, C.P., Oraison et ascension mystique de saint Paul de la Croix (Louvain, 1930), chap. 3: "Quarante-cinq annees de desolations."
12. Luke 16: 10.
13. Ps. 22:1, 4.
14. Job 1:21.
15. Prov. 3:5 f.
16. Ps. 30:2.
17. Lam. 3:22.
18. Cf. Rom. 8: 32.
19. The Dialogue, chap. 119.
21. Cf. La Vie du Bx Pere J. Eymard, founder of the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament.
22. Blessed Raymond of Capua, Life of St. Catherine, Part I, chap. 10.
24. The Dialogue, chap. 12. This dialogue was dictated about two years before the saint's death.
25. We have an example of heroic hope in St. Mary Magdalen Postel,
foundress of the Sisters of Mercy (d. Vie by Msgr. Arsene Legoux). In
during the French Revolution, she sustained the courage of several
priests whom she assisted, and she made her foundation amid almost
unbelievable difficulties, after having been abandoned by her
director, who saw in these
difficulties a sign that the work was not willed by God. The humble
who had no resources except the toil of her hands, hoped against all
The work was founded and flourishes today, and the valiant foundress,
now canonized, gives the impression of eminent sanctity.