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XV. The Real Presence: Profession of Hope
Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
We continue our reflections on why Christ instituted the Real Presence. In this chapter, we will consider the fact that Christ gave us the Real Presence so we might profess our hope in Him as our final destiny.
What is Divine Hope?
Just as we saw how every human being has faith, every normal human also has hope. Hope in general is the confident desire of obtaining some future good that is difficult to obtain. Consequently, it is a desire which implies seeking and pursuing some future good that is not yet possessed but wanted. Hope and fear are correlatives. We hope for some future good. We fear a future evil. Hope is confident that what is desired will certainly be attained. Therefore, hope is the opposite of despair. Yet, hope recognizes that the object wanted is not easily obtained and that it requires effort to overcome whatever obstacles stand inthe way.
Immediately we should distinguish hope from trust. Strictly speaking, we trust people; whereas, we hope to obtain what those people have promised. As with faith, there is human hope and divine hope. Human hope is the confident desire of obtaining some future good from human beings, and that is what we live on trusting certain people. In the measure that we trust them, we hope that we will obtain what they have assured us. That is human hope.
Divine hope is not natural; it is supernatural. It is the confident desire of obtaining from God two things: the heaven which He promised to those who serve Him faithfully and the necessary means to reach this eternal destiny. These are not semantic distinctions. Our faith and hope depend on our understanding what we believe and what we hope for.
Like divine faith, divine hope is impossible without the grace of God. First we need God's grace to trust that He will give us the graces we need to even believe in heaven. Then we need God's grace to be confident He will bring us to heaven, provided we are faithful in doing His will. The greatest danger to our hope in God's promises is the memory of our own infidelity. In other words, we are confident God will give us what He promised, but the measure of our confidence is the degree to which we know we have been faithful. Heaven indeed requires divine grace. It is not enough that God offers the grace to reach heaven. We must also accept, and cooperate with, that grace.
When Must We Profess Our Hope?
Note the imperative. We mustperiodically profess our hope throughout life. We must specifically profess our hope whenever we are tempted against the virtue of hope, as when laboring under heavy worry or anxiety or when under stress or discouragement or when we face a duty we must fulfill but are overwhelmed by the dread of our own weakness or expected failure. The more we are troubled and the more severely we are tempted, the more liable we are to discouragement, self‑doubt, depression or despair. To make sure we do not give in to discouragement and despair, we must cultivate the habit of professing our hope.
When Should We Profess Our Hope?
Professing our hope under heavy trial or temptation is a must. But we are also encouraged to profess our hope every day. Masters of the spiritual life tell us to make acts of hope at least as aspirations frequently, regularly and even habitually. Those who should make more frequent and more fervent acts of hope are those whom God calls to a life of consecrated perfection, to the priesthood, to marriage and raising of a Christian family, and those who by nature are more prone to worry or discouragement (what psychologists call, the melancholic temperament). Why should we profess our hope regularly? The difficulties and responsibilities people face in today's world are naturally insurmountable. We all should profess our hope in God's promises regularly in order to obtain more grace from God, to help us persevere in being faithful to our state of life and to grow in the virtue of divine hope. The higher the calling of one's vocation, the more demanding the lifetime commitment. The more unexpected seduction and temptations, the more one should cultivate the habit of professing hope. These are not ordinary days. No wonder such strong efforts are being made throughout the Western world to legalize euthanasia - so much of the Western world has become a hopeless world, dreading pain and running away from the cross. In today's world, we need to profess our hope more than ever before.
Professing Our Hope in the Real Presence
We now ask, "How are we to profess our hope in God's promises as revealed in the Real Presence?" As St. Paul tells us, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for." Faith is the foundation of our hope that God's promises will indeed be fulfilled.
Our hope is only as strong as our faith. Our hope is only as confident as our faith is sound. Our hope is only as courageous as our faith in God and His goodness is unshakable. Those who believe in God hope to obtain from Him what He promised. Believing people are hopeful people. Unbelieving people are hopeless people.
What does faith tell us about the Real Presence? It tells us God so loved the world that He became man and died on the cross to redeem us by His blood. Faith also tells us that on the night before He died, that same God who became man chose to change bread and wine into His own living Self, the Incarnate God. We believe God became man not only to die on the cross, but also to be with us, near us, next to us; and when we receive Him in Holy Communion, within us. Not to hope in this God when by faith we know how much He has loved us, would be sheer madness!
Faith is the evidence of things unseen‑"the substance of things hoped for." We should note that Christ's contemporaries in Palestine had more evidence for their belief than we do. They could see a man who walked, talked, ate, drank and got tired. But they still had to believe that this man was God. Our faith is twice tested; we do not even see a man! We see what looks like bread or tastes like wine, and we believe that behind these appearances is a man and that that man is the Incarnate God.
Faith tells us that this same Jesus, who said, "Have confidence, I have overcome the world," is here on earth giving us the same message today, assuring us that He will provide the help we need in this life. Whatever it is, He promises to give us all we need to cope with the trials of this world and the light and strength we need to reach our eternal destiny in heaven.
We must note how crucially important it is for us to distinguish divine hope from human hope. Unlike human hope, divine hope may be painful! Even in symbolic language, anybody in his right mind knows that heaven is above, not below. We do not get to heaven by sheer gravity. Nobody falls into heaven; we have to climb up to it.
The secret of professing our hope in Christ's promises is to believe Jesus is here in this valley of tears, precisely to enable us in coping with the trials of life and trusting that He will not abandon us. This is exactly what the Real Presence means. It means God became man, and the Incarnate God is now here with us to reassure us that we are not alone.
Perhaps the greatest terror in life is the fear of being alone, with no one to love us, care for us or help us. But Christ in the Real Presence has a real heart. His Sacred Heart beats with an unquenchable love for us. We believe Christ knows and understands and is ready to provide for all our needs on the way to heaven. He knows exactly what we need. All we have to do is come to Him, as He told us: "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest." Nowhere in our faith is that more profoundly verified than in our faith in the Real Presence. It is as if Christ in the Eucharist is saying "That is why I am here, so that you may come to me!"
Adoration of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is to include, with great emphasis, our profession of hope in Him who died on the cross to save us from the world, the devil and our own sinful inclination. But remember: We must come to Him. We must come to Him. We must come to Him. We must come to Him. The Lord and Master of the universe is waiting for us.
Blessing of Professing Our Hope in the Real Presence
The blessings we may expect are the blessings already proven by the lives of all the great saints who were devoted to the Holy Eucharist. Not only does our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament give us the courage to cope with our natural fears, He also gives us the ability to undertake great things for the sake of His name and the power to undergo great trials in our loyalty to His cause. We need the strength to undertake what the Church tells us, and we need more divine strength to undergo the trials of life.
St. Alphonsus Liguori has a delightful story in his classic work on the Holy Eucharist. He says:
After her death, St. Theresa (of Avila), who was already in heaven, said to a nun `Those who are in heaven and those who are on earth should be one and the same in purity and in love; we are enjoying and you are suffering; and that which we do in heaven with the Divine Essence, you should do on earth with the Most Blessed Sacrament' " (Holy Eucharist, 135).
In the last analysis, what is the reason for discouragement or dread of not reaching heaven? It is fear of ourselves. We know ourselves too well. We know our weakness and sinfulness and instability, and we are all afraid. But that is why God became Incarnate and dwells with us in the Blessed Sacramentthat we might look confidently to our heavenly home and trust peacefully in the strength that only He, our Eucharistic Lord, can give us. This is the abundant blessing found in coming to our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament and professing our hope in His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
"Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, I believe you are truly present under the sacramental veils of the Holy Eucharist. My faith is the foundation of my hope. My faith is the confidence of my hope. Without seeing you with bodily eyes, I sincerely believe that you are here. Because I believe in your Real Presence, 1 also trust in your loving mercy. I hope that you will grant me everything that you have promised. But on one condition, that I do not waver in my hope. Amen."
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