A sermon on Hope for the 4th Sunday after Pentecost by St. Jean-Marie Vianney.
“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.” —Matt. xxii:37
If St. Augustine says he would never cease to love God, even if there were no heaven to hope for nor hell to fear, because God is infinitely lovable and deserves to be loved, how much more reason for us to love God if He promises us an eternal reward to encourage us to put our faith in Him and to love Him above all things. If we perform this sacred duty worthily we are working for our sanctification and our glorification in heaven. As faith teaches us that God sees everything, and that He is a witness of all that we do and suffer, the divine virtue of hope for the crowning reward of heaven causes us to bear our sufferings with submission and resignation to the holy will of God. This beautiful virtue supported the martyrs in the tortures to which they were subjected, the anchorites in their severe penitential practices, and the weak and sick in their diseases. Yes, dear children, if Faith shows us the presence of God everywhere, Hope leads us on, by the joyful expectation of an eternal reward, to perform all our actions with the intention of pleasing God. As this virtue, dear brethren, sweetens all our sufferings, let us consider its benefits.
If we, dear children, acknowledge through Faith that there is a God, who is our Creator, our Redeemer, and the Supreme Good, that He created us so that we might know Him, love Him, serve Him, and possess Him, Hope teaches us that, although unworthy of this happiness, still we may hope for it through the merits of Jesus Christ. So that by our actions we may lay claim to this reward, three things are required of us: Faith, which makes God ever present to us; Hope, which causes us to perform our actions with the intention of pleasing God, and Charity, which unites us to Him as to our supreme good.
You will ask, what does “hope” mean? It means, dear brethren, to strive after something which will make us happy in the life to come; to have an ardent longing to be rid of all earthly evils, and to partake of that heavenly reward which is to satisfy us beyond all human conception. When Adam had sinned and was beset with many miseries, his greatest consolation consisted in the hope that his sufferings would not only procure pardon for his sins, but they would also gain merits for heaven. Oh, how good God is, dear brethren, who rewards the least of our actions if performed for His sake with such great bliss for all eternity. But that we may merit this great grace, it is the will of God that we should have as great confidence in Him as children have in their good father. To inspire us with a greater confidence, we know that many times in Holy Scripture He has caused Himself to be called “Father.” He desires that in all the necessities of body and soul we should take refuge in Him. By giving Himself the name of “Father,” He wishes to strengthen our confidence in Him. Behold how much He loves us. Through the prophet Isaias He tells us that He carries us all in His bosom. “A mother,” says He, “who carries her child in her womb cannot forget it, and if she should be so unnatural as to do so, still I never forget those who put their trust in me.” He even complains that we place so little confidence in Him, and He exhorts us not to put our trust in kings and princes, because we then shall have our hopes disappointed. He even goes further, and He threatens us with His curse if we do not have great confidence in Him. Through the prophet Jeremias He says, “Cursed are those who do not trust in God!” and He continues, “Blessed are they who trust in the Lord!” I said that our temporal wants should move us to have a great confidence in God. He promises to care for us, to encourage us to take recourse to Him in all our needs, and He has worked miracles for those who placed their confidence in Him. We know from Holy Scripture that He fed His people in the desert for forty years with manna. During all the years which they passed in the desert their clothing did not wear out. He exhorts us in the Gospel not to be solicitous in regard to food and clothing: “Behold the fowls of the air: they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns: yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they, O ye of little faith? Be not solicitous, therefore, saying, What shall we eat, or wherewith shall we be clothed? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin, and yet I say to you, that not even Solomon, in all his glory, was arrayed as one of these. Now, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more you, O ye of little faith? Seek ye, therefore, first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.” See how much He desires that we should put our trust in Him! When you pray He teaches us, “Do not say ‘My God,’ but say ‘Our Father,”‘ for all know what unbounded confidence a child has in its father. When He appeared to Mary Magdalen after His Resurrection, He said to her: “Seek my brethren, and tell them, that I go to my Father, who is also their Father.” Tell me, dear brethren, does it not appear to you, too, that our lack of confidence in God is the reason why we are so unhappy upon this earth?
The virtue of Hope consoles and supports us in the trials which God sends us. We have a beautiful example of this in holy Job stretched out on the dunghill, covered with sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. He had lost all his children—they were killed in the ruins of his house; he himself driven from his bed on to a dunghill; forsaken by everybody; his own wife ridiculing and heaping abuse upon him, instead of consoling him; his dearest friends only causing him still greater sufferings by their remonstrances.
Meanwhile, although his condition was so pitiable, he never ceased to hope in God. “My God,” he said, “I will never cease to hope in Thee, and to have confidence in Thy love toward all men. Why, O God, should I be discouraged and a prey to despair? I will confess my sins before Thee, which have been the cause of my sufferings, but I hope that Thou wilt be my Saviour. My hope is that Thou wilt one day reward me for the sufferings I have endured for Thy sake.” See, dear brethren, we may call this true hope, because he did not cease to hope in God, although it seemed as if the fulness of God’s wrath had descended upon him. Without seeking to know why so much suffering was his portion, he contented himself by saying that his sins alone were the cause of it. Behold, dear brethren, the great benefits which the virtue of Hope holds out to us. Lamented as unfortunate by his friends, forsaken by his own flesh and blood, despised by others, Job considers himself happy, because his confidence is placed in God. Ah, if we had such a great confidence in God in our sufferings, troubles, and sicknesses, what treasures should we not heap up for heaven! Oh, how blind we are! If instead of being inconsolable in our afflictions we had the firm hope that God sends them to us as so many means by which we can merit heaven, how gladly would we undergo them!
We must have a firm confidence in Jesus Christ, for we are sure that He will never forsake us in our necessities if we turn to Him as children to their Father; we ought to have, also, a great confidence in the Mother of God, who is so good and who so willingly assists us in all our spiritual and temporal wants by pleading for us with her divine Son. If, for instance, there is a sin upon our conscience that we are afraid to confess, let us throw ourselves at her feet, and we may rely that she will obtain for us the grace to make a good confession, and thus will procure for us the forgiveness of our sins. Yes, dear brethren, after God we ought to place the greatest confidence in the Blessed Virgin in all our spiritual and temporal needs.
The following wonderful example will serve as a proof of this. It is related in history that a certain young man for a long time led an excellent Christian life, which gave him firm confidence in gaining heaven, but the devil, eager to work his ruin, tempted him violently and so long, until at last the youth committed a mortal sin. Immediately after, he saw the enormity of his sin, and his first thought was to take refuge in the sacred tribunal of penance. But such a feeling of shame came over him at the thought of his sins that he could not make up his mind to go to confession. Tormented by remorse of conscience he foolishly resolved to drown himself, so as to put an end to his torments. When he reached the bank of the river he shuddered at the thought of the eternal damnation into which he was about to plunge himself, and, crying bitterly, he wended his way back and prayed that God might forgive him without confession. He attempted to gain peace of conscience by visiting churches, praying and practising penitential works, but in spite of all his prayers and penances remorse of conscience persecuted him persistently. God, in His great mercy, and at the intercession of His Blessed Mother, wanted to save the youth. One night, as the youth sat up, in great sadness, he felt a great desire to go to confession, and at dawn he arose and went to church, but just as he was about to go to confession he felt more than ever ashamed of his sin, and he had not the courage to do that which the grace of God had inspired him to do. The same thing happened to him repeatedly, shame held him back, and finally, in a moment of desperation, he again made up his mind to die rather than reveal his sin to the priest. All at once the thought struck him to recommend himself to the Blessed Virgin. He threw himself before Our Lady’s Altar, confided to her his difficulties, and implored her, with tears in his eyes, not to abandon him. And behold how gracious the Mother of God was to him, how quickly she came to his assistance! Hardly had he knelt down before all his anxieties left him, his heart was completely changed, and he arose full of courage and confidence, sought out his confessor, and revealed all his sins to him. Ah, dear brethren, how miserable would have been the condition of this man had he neglected to take refuge with the Blessed Virgin! Eternal damnation would perhaps have been his fate.
To show us what great confidence we should have in Jesus Christ, and how we should never be afraid to ask Him for everything necessary for body and soul, our Saviour tells us in the Gospel how a man went to one of his friends in the night time to ask for three loaves, as someone had come to visit him and he had nothing to set before him, but the friend answered that he and his family were already in bed, and he did not wish to be disturbed. But the man continued to knock, and kept on saying that he had no bread for his visitor. Then the friend arose and gave him what he wanted, not because of friendship, but because of his urging. “Therefore,” Jesus Christ concludes, “ask and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” We may be certain, therefore, that whatever we ask the Father in the name of Jesus Christ He will give it to us.
In conclusion, I must yet say that our hope should be general, which means that whatever happens we must have recourse to God. If we are sick, let us put our trust in Him—He cured many sick persons during His earthly life—and if our health will contribute to the glory of God and the salvation of our soul we are sure that He will give it to us; if, on the other hand, sickness is more profitable for our salvation, He will give us the strength to bear it with patience and thereby merit eternal reward. If we find ourselves in any great danger, let us imitate the three youths whom they cast into the fiery furnace: their confidence in God was so great that the fire had no power over them, and only consumed the ropes with which they were bound, while they walked about the furnace praising God. In temptations, dear brethren, let us put our trust in Jesus Christ and we shall be certain not to fall. The loving Saviour merited our victory over our temptations by allowing Himself to be tempted. If, dear brethren, we have become entangled in any bad habit, and we are afraid that we shall not be able to get rid of it, let us put our trust in God; He merited for us countless graces, that we might be victorious over the devil. In this way we shall find consolation in our cares, which are inseparable from life.
It is pride which causes us to remain hardened in our sins and makes it so difficult for us to confess them. If we were humble we could not remain in our sins, nor should we be afraid to go to confession. Let us ask God, dear brethren, to grant us humility, so that we may fear sin and have recourse to the Sacrament of Penance if we have committed sin. We should often ask God for the beautiful virtue of Hope, which will show us how to perform all our actions with the intention of pleasing God alone.
Let us guard against giving way to despair in sickness and trouble. Let us remember that God sends us these so that we may fix our eyes and our hopes upon the eternal reward in heaven, which I wish you all. Amen.