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Friday, 10 April 2015

Spe Salvi Comments One

One of the overlooked encyclicals of our time is Spe Salvi. As usual, the Pope Emeritus wrote ahead of the times, stirring readers to consider suffering and hope, which seem necessary today more than ever.

In this great work, Benedict is preparing Catholics for persecution. I am not going to review the encyclical line by line but highlight a few timely paragraphs. In number eight, the Pope Emeritus traces the theme of the switching of security from things to Christ. As one who lives in poverty, I can identify with the loss of the normal sources of security to which the Pope refers.

The basis on one's existence changes from things to faith. Those in monastic orders, or in active orders whose members take a vow of poverty willingly renounce personal possessions in order to learn complete trust in Divine Providence. This is active purgation or active purification, different from my passive purgation.

One learns to hope in God alone under all circumstances, thereby sharing this deep hope with others
One cannot share what one does not have.

8. This explanation is further strengthened and related to daily life if we consider verse 34 of the tenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews, which is linked by vocabulary and content to this definition of hope-filled faith and prepares the way for it. Here the author speaks to believers who have undergone the experience of persecution and he says to them: “you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property (hyparchonton—Vg. bonorum), since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession (hyparxin—Vg. substantiam) and an abiding one.” Hyparchonta refers to property, to what in earthly life constitutes the means of support, indeed the basis, the “substance” for life, what we depend upon. This “substance”, life's normal source of security, has been taken away from Christians in the course of persecution. They have stood firm, though, because they considered this material substance to be of little account. They could abandon it because they had found a better “basis” for their existence—a basis that abides, that no one can take away. We must not overlook the link between these two types of “substance”, between means of support or material basis and the word of faith as the “basis”, the “substance” that endures. Faith gives life a new basis, a new foundation on which we can stand, one which relativizes the habitual foundation, the reliability of material income. A new freedom is created with regard to this habitual foundation of life, which only appears to be capable of providing support, although this is obviously not to deny its normal meaning. This new freedom, the awareness of the new “substance” which we have been given, is revealed not only in martyrdom, in which people resist the overbearing power of ideology and its political organs and, by their death, renew the world. Above all, it is seen in the great acts of renunciation, from the monks of ancient times to Saint Francis of Assisi and those of our contemporaries who enter modern religious Institutes and movements and leave everything for love of Christ, so as to bring to men and women the faith and love of Christ, and to help those who are suffering in body and spirit. In their case, the new “substance” has proved to be a genuine “substance”; from the hope of these people who have been touched by Christ, hope has arisen for others who were living in darkness and without hope. In their case, it has been demonstrated that this new life truly possesses and is “substance” that calls forth life for others. For us who contemplate these figures, their way of acting and living is de facto a “proof” that the things to come, the promise of Christ, are not only a reality that we await, but a real presence: he is truly the “philosopher” and the “shepherd” who shows us what life is and where it is to be found.

In paragraph nine, the Pope Emeritus emphasizes the virtues which arise from renunciation and purgation. Patience, perseverance, constancy, knowing how to wait, enduring trials become necessary virtues for those who face persecution. But, one learns these virtues daily-and when one is poor, one is given many opportunities; waiting for a ride, waiting for the bus in the rain and being splashed by cars, denying the buying of things as one cannot afford them, being constant in prayer despite no consolations, enduring illnesses and injuries because one cannot afford medical attention, waiting even for food or a place to live.

Certainty comes, therefore, from God alone. Christ becomes the center of certainty, not things or even other people.

A lived hope does not mean a giving up, but an endurance beyond one's own capacity to face trials, an endurance centered on the Cross.

These words are not poetry, but become real tools when one has nothing else upon which to rely but God. And, in God alone is our hope.

9. In order to understand more deeply this reflection on the two types of substance—hypostasis and hyparchonta—and on the two approaches to life expressed by these terms, we must continue with a brief consideration of two words pertinent to the discussion which can be found in the tenth chapter of the Letter to the Hebrews. I refer to the words hypomone (10:36) and hypostole(10:39). Hypo- mone is normally translated as “patience”—perseverance, constancy. Knowing how to wait, while patiently enduring trials, is necessary for the believer to be able to “receive what is promised” (10:36). In the religious context of ancient Judaism, this word was used expressly for the expectation of God which was characteristic of Israel, for their persevering faithfulness to God on the basis of the certainty of the Covenant in a world which contradicts God. Thus the word indicates a lived hope, a life based on the certainty of hope. In the New Testament this expectation of God, this standing with God, takes on a new significance: in Christ, God has revealed himself. He has already communicated to us the “substance” of things to come, and thus the expectation of God acquires a new certainty.

to be continued...