“‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘is there any hope? For Frodo I mean, or at least mostly for Frodo.’”
So spoke Pippin to Gandalf on the eve of the siege of Gondor, a time when the Shadow was creeping and seemingly insurmountable darkness was bearing down on every land. What was Gandalf’s response? He hesitated in his speech and in his heart, but, peering through the distance, he saw on whose shoulders hope rested. There were great and grand structures and forces all around; might, power, strength and heft were about to be pitted against one another. Yet hope did not find its anchor there. Neither side lacked great minds, marvelous ambitions, battle-tested valor or daunting machinery. But, in the end, hope did not spring forth from those wells.
Gandalf could see that hope alone rested in the smallest, most vulnerable of characters, the hobbit who bore a great burden and bore it straight into the midst of the darkness.
Advent, Christmas, and the New Year are periods for refreshing hope – regardless of our circumstances. Because it is so often repeated, the word “hope” can sometimes sound empty. It can fall into our minds like a raindrop in a downpour, triggering no reaction from us at all. But, may this season, more than others, shock us from behind this veil of familiarity to realize that hope is not just a word or a sentiment, but a real gift from God without which life has no meaning.
We cannot live without hope – or at least not in any way really resembling sincere human life. Without hope we are imprisoned, chained and bolted to the ground saying, “There is no chance of me getting home; there is no chance of perfect, unending happiness; there is no end to evil. The problems I have are permanent. Evil will never be defeated. This is the way it is and always will be until the Sun destroys the Earth and humans are no more.”
Can we live that way? No, absolutely not. But unless our hope is perfect, we, at times, either believe these lies or (as our mainstream culture often does) we hop on the kitsch Merry-Go-Round of “Life is Fun! La-La-La” just to distract ourselves from facing these questions. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that – I want reality.
And the reality of our situation as human being is our status viatoris: the condition or state of “being on the way”. We are pilgrims. We are on a journey. There is a persistent existential “not yet” inherent in our nature as finite beings. We are making progress toward eternal happiness, towards fullness of being, but we are “not yet” there. We are creatures: created entities who can turn toward nothingness (sin), but who were made to turn towards and eventually obtain fullness of being – for “He created all things that they might be” (Wis 1:14). We are no longer what we once were, but we are “not yet” what we desire to be – what we ought to be.
That’s great, but how are we to have hope in this state? It is the same question to ask, “How are we to be more?” How are we to obtain a greater fullness of being? We have a lack – how is it to be filled? By our own merits and efforts? The predominant voices around us think and say so, but that “solution” amounts to nothing. It is like trying to operate on your right elbow with your right hand – the right arm is the very thing that is broken!
No, we can be made whole only by He who is Wholeness itself. He who came (imaged by Frodo) as the smallest and most vulnerable of characters (a baby) and bore our greatest of burdens straight into the midst of darkness – and broke it. This is where our hope lies – in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Him – and Him alone – do we now gain access to everything for which our hearts burn with desire. So that now…
Christ is held by the hand of hope. We hold him and are held. But it is a greater good that we are held by Christ than that we hold him. For we can hold him only so long as we are held by him. (De fide, spe et caritate; Paschasius Radbertus)
This is why hope is a gift. We can have it only through grace; only through Christ “holding us”. If we accept this gift of hope, we will find “a sure and firm anchor of the soul, reaching even behind the veil, where our forerunner Jesus has entered for us” (Heb 6:19). Thus are we free to hope for the Return of the King: the time when He will come again to unite us to Himself once and for all – a thought to which these ruminations must fall silent.
So yes, Pippin, there is hope – a “thrill of hope”, as is sung in O Holy Night. Because of what characterizes this season, our journey is not pointless. Because of what God did for us 2,000 years ago, because of what He is doing for us today and because of what He will do in ages to come, we can be – we must be! – a people of hope.