Benedict XVI's second Encyclical, "Spe Salvi" which is dedicated to the theme of Christian hope, was published today. The document - which has an introduction and eight chapters - begins with a quote from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans: "spe salvi facti sumus" (in hope we are saved).
The chapter titles are as follows: "1. Faith is Hope; 2. The concept of faith-based hope in the New Testament and the early Church; 3. Eternal life - what is it?; 4. Is Christian hope individualistic?; 5. The transformation of Christian faith-hope in the modern age; 6. The true shape of Christian hope; 7. 'Settings' for learning and practicing hope: i) Prayer as a school of hope, ii) Action and suffering as settings for learning hope, iii) Judgement as a setting for learning and practicing hope; 8. Mary, Star of Hope."
The Holy Father explains in his Introduction that "according to the Christian faith, 'redemption' - salvation - is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey."
Hence, "a distinguishing mark of Christians" is "the fact that they have a future: ... they know ... that their life will not end in emptiness. ... The Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known - it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life."
"To come to know God - the true God - means to receive hope." This was well understood by the early Christians, such as the Ephesians who before encountering Christ had many gods but "were without hope." The problem faced by Christians of long standing, the Holy Father says, is that they "have grown accustomed to, ... have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God."
The Pope recalls that Jesus "did not bring a message of social revolution" like Spartacus, and that "he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation like Barabbas of Bar-Kochba." He brought "something totally different: ... an encounter with the living God, ... an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within, ... even if external structures remained unaltered."
Christ makes us truly free. "We are not slaves of the universe" or of "the laws of matter and of evolution." We are free because "heaven is not empty," because the Lord of the universe is God "Who in Jesus has revealed Himself as Love."
Christ is the "true philosopher" Who "tells us who man truly is and what a man must do in order to be truly human." He shows us "the way beyond death; only someone able to do this is a true teacher of life." He offers us a hope that is, at one and the same time, expectation and presence because "the fact that this future exists changes the present."
The Pope remarks that "perhaps many people reject the faith today simply because they do not find the prospect of eternal life attractive. ... The present-day crisis of faith," he continues, "is essentially a crisis of Christian hope. ... The restoration of the lost Paradise is no longer expected from faith," but from technical and scientific progress whence, it its believed, the "kingdom of man" will emerge. Hope thus becomes "faith in progress" founded on two pillars: reason and freedom which "seem to guarantee by themselves, by virtue of their intrinsic goodness, a new and perfect human community."
The Pope mentions "two essential stages in the political realization of this hope:" the French and the Marxist Revolutions. Faced with the French Revolution, "the Europe of the Enlightenment ... had cause to reflect anew on reason and freedom," while the proletarian revolution left behind "a trail of appalling destruction." Marx's fundamental error was that "he forgot man and he forgot man's freedom. ... He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism. ... Let us put it very simply: man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope. ... Man can never be redeemed simply" by an external structure, "man is redeemed by love," an unconditional, absolute love: "Man's great, true hope which holds firm in spite of all disappointments can only be God - God Who has loved us and continues to love us to the end."
The Pope then identifies four "settings" for learning and practicing hope. The first of these is prayer. "When no one listens to me any more, God still listens to me. ... When there is no longer anyone to help me, ... He can help me."
Alongside prayer is action: "Hope in a Christian sense is always hope for others as well. It is an active hope, in which we struggle ... towards a brighter and more humane world." Yet only if I know that "my own life and history in general ... are held firm by the indestructible power of Love" can "I always continue to hope."
Suffering is another of the "settings" for learning hope. "Certainly we must do whatever we can to reduce suffering," however "it is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, Who suffered with infinite love." Another fundamental aspect is to suffer with others and for others. "A society unable to accept its suffering members ... is a cruel and inhuman society," he writes.
Finally, another setting for learning hope is the Judgement of God. "There is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice. There is an 'undoing' of past suffering, a reparation that sets things aright." The Pope writes of his conviction "that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favor of faith in eternal life." It is, indeed, impossible "that the injustice of history should be the final word. ... God is justice and creates justice. ... And in His justice there is also grace. ... Grace does not cancel out justice. ... Evildoers, in the end, do not sit at table at the eternal banquet beside their victims without distinction, as though nothing had happened."