Summary of Spes Salvi by Pope Benedict XVI

Background: Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 Encyclical, Spes Salvi, which takes its name from Romans 8:24, “Spes salvi facti sumus” – in hope we were saved, is dedicated to the theme of Christian hope.

Hope is Performative

“The Christian message [is] not only “informative” but “performative”. That means: 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” (2).

Although we, as Christians, are uncertain about the details of what awaits us, we know in general terms that our lives will not end in emptiness. This hope is transformative: “Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well” (2).

“Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a “not yet”. The fact that this future exists changes the present; the present is touched by the future reality, and thus the things of the future spill over into those of the present and those of the present into those of the future” (7).

Hope in Suffering

“We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. 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” (37).

“Only the great certitude of hope that my own life and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere” (35).

“Bernard of Clairvaux coined the marvellous expression: Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis — God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with. Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way—in flesh and blood—as is revealed to us in the account of Jesus’s Passion. Hence in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence con-solatio is present in all suffering, the consolation of God’s compassionate love—and so the star of hope rises” (39).

Hope in Eternal Life

We have a paradoxical attitude towards life on earth.

“On the one hand, we do not want to die; above all, those who love us do not want us to die. Yet on the other hand, neither do we want to continue living indefinitely, nor was the earth created with that in view… So what do we really want?” (11).

The paradox was expressed very well by St. Ambrose in the funeral discourse for his deceased brother Satyrus, who described death as God’s remedy to put a limit on the evil that sin has caused.

So, what do we want? We want the blessed life:

“To imagine ourselves outside the temporality that imprisons us and in some way to sense that eternity is not an unending succession of days in the calendar, but something more like the supreme moment of satisfaction, in which totality embraces us and we embrace totality—this we can only attempt. It would be like plunging into the ocean of infinite love, a moment in which time—the before and after—no longer exists. We can only attempt to grasp the idea that such a moment is life in the full sense, a plunging ever anew into the vastness of being, in which we are simply overwhelmed with joy” (12).

In contrast the our contemporary age’s hope of creating a perfect world – “the kingdom of man” – through science and politics, we, as Christians, must proclaim that real hope is found in God alone, who will love us “to the end,” until all “is accomplished” (cf. Jn 13:1 and 19:30) in the perfect world to come – “the kingdom of God” (cf. 27). This is the ultimate hope that sustains the whole of life (cf. Ephesians 2:12).

“Let us say once again: we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. The fact that it comes to us as a gift is actually part of hope. God is the foundation of hope: not any god, but the God who has a human face and who has loved us to the end, each one of us and humanity in its entirety. His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is “truly” life” (31).

St. Josephine Bakhita: A Model of Hope

Born in 1869 in Sudan, Josephine was kidnapped by slave-traders at the age of 9. Beaten on a regular basis until she bled, she was sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant. In Italy, she came to know a new kind of master – the Master, who no longer despised and abused her, but shared in her suffering and gave her new hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God. In 1896, Josephine became a Canossian Sister and travelled extensively throughout Italy promoting the true message of hope in Jesus Christ (cf. 3).

“If I was to meet those slave raiders that abducted me and those who tortured me, I’d kneel down to them to kiss their hands, because, if it had not have been for them, I would not have become a Christian and religious woman” (St. Josephine Bakhita).

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