This is the second in a seven-part series on the seven moral and theological virtues listed in the Catechism. They are Faith, Hope, Charity (love), Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. The series will take a closer look at how these virtues are tested in this life and how we can grow in these virtues.
The second theological virtue is hope. This is the hope of the resurrection of our bodies and eternal life. (CCC1817) In Romans 8, St. Paul says this is a hope that we do not see with our physical eyes. In the time of technology, smart phones, instant messaging and other means of instant gratification, we must find ways to remain hopeful in the face of so many distractions to our salvation.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of 10 virgins who are invited to meet the bridegroom. However, he is not there upon their arrival, and they do not know when he will arrive. Five of those virgins were unprepared and failed to have provisions for the wait. These five then decided to take a nap to pass the time and so became further unprepared.
We can look at this parable and criticize these unprepared virgins for being lazy and unprepared. But we forget how easy it is in this life to be like the unprepared virgins. Let us look at a modern example — flight delays. If you look around the airport, you will see irritable people most commonly scrolling their phones to pass the time. This is our human nature wanting to deal with discomfort by “tuning out.”
Perhaps we might also criticize the unprepared virgins because, unlike waiting for a delayed plane, the bridegroom they were waiting for was Jesus. But if we are honest with ourselves, we often treat our salvation like waiting for an airplane. The longer the wait, the better we are at wasting time. Once the sense of urgency is gone, we become bored. We say that we will get started tomorrow, or after answering our emails. We spend no effort on our salvation, and neither did the unprepared virgins trouble themselves for their future.
If we are to be the five prepared virgins who hoped for the bridegroom’s arrival and were prepared no matter what time he came, we must be “now” people. Our hope is for something unseen in the future, but we must prepare for that future by acting now. There is no time to waste. A minute spent mindlessly scrolling our phone could be a minute spent in prayer or a minute picking up trash in the park. Especially in our world of immediate gratification, we must hold on to our urgency for our salvation and we must cling to hope of eternal life. For Jesus warns us that we must be ready at any hour, for we do not know when he will come again. (Matthew 24:44)
Unless we die abruptly and unexpectedly, our own reckoning may be far away. In the lifetime we’re granted, we must find ways to hope every moment of every year. Hope must be renewed daily or it will be depleted by the challenges of this life. The Catechism tells us hope “is expressed and nourished in prayer.” (CCC1821)
Sometimes we fall into a too restrictive concept of prayer. It is wonderful to spend a Holy Hour immersed in silence and mental prayer. But we lose so many opportunities to pray when we limit ourselves to the prayer we find in oft-elusive solitude. We also fall into the instant gratification trap with prayer. We are so quick to lose hope when our prayers do not seem to be answered or when we must wait indefinitely.
If we are to continuously hope in the resurrection and eternal life, we must honestly evaluate how we are living this life in preparation for the next. We must be prepared to pray for months and years without any evident result. St. Paul says it succinctly in his letter to the Romans. “Be patient in suffering, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) A prayer is not just our words. We pray with our actions and our sufferings. As the morning offering states, “I offer you (Jesus) my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day.” All we need to do is direct our thoughts to God and we have refueled our hope.
A pocket prayer book can be useful for those times that mental prayer is a struggle. We can pray on our way to work, as we wash our hands or any time we suffer delay. Put down the phone, tolerate your distress and pray, even if only to make the sign of the cross before we start our work. If structure is what you need, the Church offers us the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office. If we take an honest accounting of our day, most of us will find that many distractions hinder our prayer life. Let us prepare and renew our sense of urgency for our return to Christ or Christ’s return to us.