In our quest for spiritual growth, we seek to become the best that we can be by growing in virtue, but our virtue must also moves us out of ourselves and unite us to God and neighbor in selfless love. The theological virtues give us the foundation for a real, lived relationship with God. The virtue of hope is a powerful virtue that draws us toward love. When we live out the trust that the virtue of hope builds, we are also equipped to go out and evangelize the world. That’s exactly why evangelization is one of our Keys to Spiritual Growth.
Evangelization is an important part of spiritual growth. Many Catholics are scared of evangelization. In their minds they picture standing at street corners and asking people if they are saved. But Catholic evangelization is much more natural and a lot less threatening than that. Catholic evangelization is really a matter of living the theological virtues, being a witness to the difference a relationship with God makes in our lives, and then “giving a reason for our hope” (1Peter 3:15). By building the theological virtue of hope, you have already started to evangelize!
As you grow in hope your life will begin to bear the fruits of hope. You may not even realize it’s happening, but other people will notice. They’ll see that your life is different. Eventually they will ask about it – directly or indirectly. If you are then ready to give them the reason for your hope, you have the opportunity to evangelize.
So what are these fruits of hope?
Joy: There is nothing more attractive to the world than a life energized by true joy. Christian joy is unique. On a human level we can experience moments of joy. Human joy depends on our circumstances. It is a response to the presence and enjoyment of a good. When the good disappears, so does the joy. Christian joy is a deep-rooted, confident joy that endures because its source is God himself. When we place our trust in Jesus, we gain a solid confidence in his goodness that cannot be shaken. During heavy weather, seafaring ships lower a storm anchor. This anchor stabilizes the ship in rough weather. Hope is like our storm anchor. It stabilizes us even in bad times so that our joy will be unshaken. So, Saint Paul can command us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). Christian joy is not just emotional. It is a choice to put our trust in the solid goodness of Jesus.
Fortitude: Trust in Jesus also feeds our fortitude. Think of the courage of the martyrs. Martyrs by and large are normal people. They have no more natural courage than you or I. The difference is that a martyr has learned to trust God completely. By relying on Christ’s strength, they are able to confidently give up their lives in the trust of the resurrection and of eternity with God in heaven. That’s where true fortitude comes from. While the natural virtue of fortitude means a firm determination to gain a good despite the difficulties in our way. Hope is the determination to gain a relationship with God no matter what it costs. The fortitude born of hope is grounded in the fact that when we gain God we gain everything. So we really have nothing to lose, even by losing it all.
Perseverance: This same determination to gain a relationship with God has the power to transform suffering in our lives. Again, we know that in the end we have nothing to lose even by losing it all. So suffering loses its power over us. Hope keeps us from despair. But even more than that, our hope in Jesus Christ is that the evil of suffering can be transformed to a force for good. Our suffering becomes a participation in the suffering of Christ on the cross and can contribute to the salvation of the world. Therefore we can persevere through our suffering with the knowledge that it will lead to glory.
Love: Don’t forget that hope is only the first step in our relationship with God. We must first learn to trust God before we can move deeper into our relationship. Hope leads to a deeper faith. And eventually it leads to love. And love is where the real magic begins.