Excerpt from Joseph Pieper from Faith, Hope, Love
trans. Sister Mary Francis McCarthy
1997 Ignatius Press, San Francisco
(Chapter II pp. 110-111)
…Natural hope blossoms with the strength of youth and withers when youth withers. “Youth is a cause of hope. For youth, the future is long and the past is short.” On the other hand, it is above all when life grows short that hope grows weary; the “not yet” is turned into the has-been, and old age turns, not to the “not yet”, but to memories of what is “no more”.
For supernatural hope, the opposite is true: not only is it not bound to natural youth; it is actually rooted in a much more substantial youthfulness. It bestows on mankind a “not yet” that is entirely superior to and distinct from the failing strength of man’s natural hope. Hence it gives man such a “long” future that the past seems “short” however long and rich his life. The theological virtue of hope is the power to wait patiently for a “not yet” that is the more immeasurably distant from us the more closely we approach it.
The supernatural vitality of hope overflows, moreover, and sheds its light also upon the rejuvenated powers of natural hope. The lives of countless saints attest to this truly astonishing fact. It seems surprising, however, how seldom the enchanting youthfulness of our great saints is noticed; especially of those saints who were active in the world as builders and founders. There is hardly anything comparable to just this youthfulness of the saint that testifies so challengingly to the fact that is surely most relevant for contemporary man: that, in the most literal sense of these words, nothing more eminently preserves and founds “eternal youth” than the theological virtue of hope. It alone can bestow on man the certain possession of that aspiration that is at once relaxed and disciplined, that adaptability and readiness, that strong-hearted freshness, that resilient joy, that steady perseverance in trust that so distinguish the young and make them lovable.
The gift of youth that supernatural hope bestows on man leaves its mark on human nature at a much deeper level than does natural youth. Despite its very visible effect in the natural sphere, the Christian’s supernaturally grounded youthfulness lives from a root that penetrates into an area of human nature that the powers of natural hope are unable to reach. This is so because the supernatural youthfulness emanates from participation in the life of God, who is closer and more intimate to us than we are to ourselves.
For this reason, the youthfulness of the individual who longs for eternal life is fundamentally imperishable. It cannot be touched by aging or disappointment; it proves itself above all in the face of the withering of natural youth and in temptations to despair. Saint Paul says, “Even though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). But there are no other words in Holy Scripture or in human speech as a whole that let resound as triumphantly the youthfulness of one who remains firm in hope against all destruction and through a veil of tears as do those of the patient Job: “Although he should slay me, I will trust in him.” (13:15)
For a sermon What is Hope?, based on Joseph Pieper’s great essay, please click here.