Summary: A child, and especially the child Jesus, is above everything a sign of hope.
Monday of 3rd week in Easter
Today’s Gospel is so brief that we might be tempted to overlook it, as we are often tempted to ignore a little child. But many commentators believe that when Jesus said that we must turn and become like this little child, he was pointing to Himself. Pope Benedict constantly told us that the most well-attested title of Jesus is “Son.” Jesus defined Himself in relation to the Father of all, but defined himself uniquely as the Son of God. We are destined to filiation ourselves, but as adopted children of God. What does that mean?
A child, and especially the child Jesus, is above everything a sign of hope. I look at the children I teach and see hope for the future, especially for the future of Christian witness against a culture of death. Because children are signs and symbols and sacraments of hope, Western civilization’s rejection of childbirth and moral education is particularly distressing. The Holy Father reminds us that in similar times–the fourth century–God raised up the greatest teacher of the first millennium, Augustine of Hippo. After his conversion, he began gathering a community of men to live a monastic life together. But that was not God’s plan. His people needed him and almost forced him to be ordained. He wrote: Christ died for all. To live for him means allowing oneself to be drawn into his being for others. So this introvert was recruited by God to be bishop in a North Africa under assault from all sides–from heretics and barbarians. He set out to transmit hope, the hope which came to him from faith and which. . .enabled him to take part decisively and with all his strength in the task of building up the city of God. He wanted to build a new Christian civilization on the decaying skeleton of the Roman Empire. But more than anything, he wanted to provide human beings with a hope that goes further than any secular hope could contain. He prayed: our hearts are made for Thee, O God, and will never rest until they rest in thee.
The virtue of hope is one of the most misunderstood of human qualities, because we don’t “get” what is the true end or goal of hope. We train ourselves to this early in life. I was a crummy athlete. So in grade school I would say “I hope I’m not chosen last for this team.” As an adult, I was an assistant manager for a branch of our company. When the manager was moved to Atlanta, I said, and prayed this way, “I hope they choose me as the new manager here.” It did not happen, but that was the best outcome, because a few years later the company was engulfed by another in a merger and most of the managers were out of work. So when it comes to our earthly goals and prayers, we ought always to end our prayers with something like “if that is best for me and our family, Lord.” God always wants the best for us; sometimes understanding that is something that takes a full lifetime.
No, the Catechism tells us that “Hope is 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. [The Scriptures tell us] ‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.’ St. Paul wrote ‘The Holy Spirit . . . he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.’” All our hope is in God, and in God’s ultimate desire that all human beings be saved and spend eternal life in His love. Anything less than that is just a wish. Augustine was exactly right: our hearts are made for you, O God, and we never rest until we can rest in you.
Augustine actually failed in mere secular human terms. North Africa fell to the Vandals, and then to the Muslims long after he was dead. But his hope shone through in his writings. His Confessions are read all over the world, and The City of God would be, too, if someone would give us a readable translation. We cannot be satisfied with hope in the kingdom of man. All we can do is to be faithful, to do God’s will and witness to His justice, and build up in our children a thirst for the true kingdom of Christ.