Thursday, November 19

Lift Up Your Hearts: Part One

My talk is finished and available for download here, at AFewMinutesWithGod. This is a great website, that encourages us all to spend a few minutes with our Lord every day. I've been participating for a week or so now, and it's been a great blessing to me, just to be reminded to spend that time with my Jesus. 

Even though my talk is available for download, I also wanted to provide you with a hard copy, if you wanted to read it in the customary three installments. 

My talk is called "Lift Up Your Hearts." I talk about the importance of hope in our Christian walk, why it is difficult at times to retain, and I share some of my own experiences. Hope truly is a central aspect of our spiritual journey. It is fundamental to our relationship with Jesus. It opens our eyes to deeper meaning and purpose. It fills us with peace and joy that supersede our circumstances. READ ON to discover more that the Lord has revealed to me about Hope. 

Lift Up Your Hearts
The Necessity of Hope in the Christian Life

Most of us Catholics can recite the three theological virtues – faith, hope, and love – and have been able to give these three answers confidently since childhood. These are three incredible gifts that the Lord has given to us to assist us on our journey to sainthood, our walk with Him into eternity.

These virtues are a gift, but also a responsibility. We are called not only to accept them as gifts, but to cultivate them in our lives through our words, thoughts, and actions.

Now, this conference focuses specifically on Hope. My talk is called “Lift Up Your Hearts,” a title which uses a phrase that we recite every time we go to mass. We are called to lift up our hearts, to be elevated up to Heaven, to fix our eyes upon something greater than this earth can provide.

Our capacity to hope is a tremendous blessing that we ought not take lightly, but must guard vigilantly. Hope is absolutely vital in the good times, but most especially when faced with trial and difficulty. It is what allows us to endure, to focus on the Lord and His promise to carry us through whatever comes our way.

One of my favorite verses deals with this incredible gift of hope. Psalm 42:6 proclaims, “Why are you cast down, my soul? Why groan within me? Hope in God, I will praise Him still, my savior and my God.” As Christians, we are called to a life imbued with hope, which cannot sway regardless of our circumstances. Whether we face difficult times ahead, or whether our lives are full of happiness, we must cling to the promise of the Lord to provide for our needs and desires.

Our hope cannot be in the fickle promise or empty satisfaction extended by the world. The world would seek to distract us from our true purpose and meaning: to give glory to the Lord in all things.   

This talk will examine what the virtue of hope is, what is its importance in our spiritual walk, why it can be so difficult to retain. I will also share some of my own experiences with hope.

*          *          *

So what is this virtue that can hold our heads above the storm’s waves, and keep our eyes fixed on Christ? The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1817, defines Hope as “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

In my acceptance of Christ into my heart and my desire for union with Him, my hope is transformed. I no longer hope for earthly success, financial stability, romantic companionship, or whatever else entices my heart on this earth. My hope is now fixed on Jesus, on His promise of eternal life. This is now the source of my joy, the thought of one day joining my Lord in heaven. If you think about it, what earthly pleasure could compete with this promise? Wouldn’t a promise like this, a promise of eternal happiness and peace, be worth sacrificing everything?

Why is hope so important? When He created humanity, the Lord placed within us an emptiness that only He in His infinite goodness and love could fill. He created us to search for Him, to search for something greater than this earth and all its wonders. We need hope to give us perspective, to instill meaning and purpose in our day-to-day activities. As a hopeful people, we can endure suffering and see beauty in it. We can overcome temptation and not feel deprived. We can live as Christ lived, following His example, dying to ourselves day after day, and know that with every action, we draw nearer to His heart, and get a little closer to Heaven.

Hope is vital because it is the doorway to deeper faith, to having our eyes truly opened by the Lord. A life without hope becomes mechanical. You survive from day to day. You live for earth instead of for eternity as you were created. Things that happen are either random coincidence or entirely dependent on you and your own strength and skill. A life like this is like standing on the edge of a cliff. Instead of looking in front of you and observing the gorgeous sunset, you instead focus on the small little rocks at your feet, and work at arranging them into little piles. You have control, and are accomplishing some task, but in the process miss out on the glory before you, and the possibilities that lie down the road.

The life of hope becomes imbued with deeper meaning and purpose. We don’t have hope because of our own goodness or perfection. We have hope because of Jesus, because of His promise which we believe. Hope does not reside in our heads, but flows from our heart. We cannot know beyond the shadow of a doubt that there is in fact something greater, that at the final hour we will experience all that is promised us. But we trust in His Promise, we believe His word, and we hope for the day that we will see His glory revealed.

Once we allow hope to take root in our hearts, the light of Christ shines forth and casts away the darkness of despair. Hope keeps us from selfishness, fills us with tremendous gratitude both for what we have now and what we trust is coming. Hope opens the door to greater faith and love. We are content with little now, with sacrifice now, knowing that our reward will be great in Heaven.

This frees us from the desire to drown our discontent in earthly pleasure that can never satisfy the deeper longing in our hearts. We were not created to be satisfied with so little. St. Augustine notes that our hearts are restless until they rest in the Lord. Only He can satisfy this intense desire, because He placed it within us. He created us to long for Him, to long for something more than this finite world can offer.

 Too often, our hearts are burdened with a false restlessness because of fear, anxiety, or worry. This is a bondage we were not intended to experience. We become restless because we seek peace, security, and fulfillment in earthly things that can never live up to our expectation of needs. And yet we turn to them again and again, falsely hoping that maybe this time, it will satisfy.

This false hope and restlessness is a prison that can be avoided by fixing our eyes on the Lord and hoping instead for the delights, the peace, the joy that He offers. Fear and worry keep us paralyzed, and would cripple us. Hope, on the other hand, lifts us up. Fear darkens our view, while hope is the window that lets in the light of Christ, casting out the darkness of Satan's deception.

 Our hearts must be restless for Him alone, hope for Him alone. Only when we realize the incredible destiny for which we were created, and again hope and trust in the Lord, that we find what we are searching for. He alone is the answer to our every question, the fulfillment of our deepest hopes.

When we are able to truly hope in the Lord, we receive the peace which Philippians 4:6-7 gives testimony to: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known unto God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding shall guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Hope in the Lord can never disappoint, but if truly embraced will always provide the peace we so desperately seek. The Lord knows our needs better than we can imagine. If we make our requests known, and are grateful for all we already have, the Lord promises us the peace that goes beyond what our minds can comprehend. This peace supersedes our circumstances, our crosses and trials, our successes and victories. It is a constant reliance upon His strength, His joy, His truth alone.

Stay tuned for Part Two tomorrow!!! 

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