Last April 21, Fr. Anthony led the Easter El Shaddai service. He started his sermon by greeting the audience, “Happy Easter”.Fr. Anthony said that Easter is the mother of all feasts and the anchor of the Catholic faith. Easter renders complete the mystery of man’s salvation and redemption. It is the day in which Jesus rose from the dead after sacrificing his life to give us the hope and gift of eternal life. The resurrection establishes Jesus as the Son of God, and because of Him we are saved. Our relationship with God is restored and complete because Jesus has brought us back to God, worthy and pleasing to be with God again. Easter represents our spiritual “resurrection” and marks the birth of our hope in eternal life. Thus, the underlying message of Easter is the virtue of hope.
In line with the Easter celebration, Fr. Anthony’s sermon focuses on the theological virtue of hope. Hope is one of three theological virtues which includes faith and charity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) defines theological virtues as “gifts infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as His children and of meriting eternal life.” It is God’s desire for all His children to have eternal life with him in heaven. However, because of our own limited human capacity we are unable to reach God and the path to eternal life. Thus, God graciously gifted us with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity to be able to believe, desire, and inspire activities that purify us and help us achieve the objective of being closer to God in heaven. These theological virtues direct us not only in right living here and now, but are ordered toward our total fulfillment in God throughout everlasting life.
Fr. Anthony particularly delved into the theological virtue of hope. Citing the CCC, he says that hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness. It is about 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. Fr. Anthony explains that the virtue of hope begins with the desire and expectation of eternal life in heaven, which is the ultimate vision and plan of God. The purpose of our life on this earth is to be with God in heaven. Man was created by God and for God. Thus, as humans, we are composed of a body and soul, because the body was created for this Earth, and the soul was crated for heaven. Hope is the gift given by God to help man live a fruitful life here on earth and attain the ultimate goal of happiness in heaven. It positions us to trust in the promises of Christ in order to arrive at eternal life. Hope serves to focus our gaze in the right direction and toward the ultimate goal. This is especially important when facing the trials of life which might tempt us to fall into despair, discouragement, and abandonment. Fr. Anthony says that hope does not imply that salvation is easy. We have hope in God because we are certain that we cannot achieve salvation on our own. It is only God’s grace that helps us do what we need to do to achieve eternal life. This hope influences actions that allow us to walk towards God or to become closer to Him.
Fr. Anthony further relays that expectation of God’s help must be confident and vigorous, but not to be taken for granted or abused. Careful balance is necessary. The CCC identifies two sins against hope: despair and presumption.
Despair is when a man ceases to hope for his personal salvation from God and loses all hope of God’s forgiveness or His help in getting to heaven. Those falling into despair may have various motives, but they ultimately conclude that God cannot or will not save them. Despair is common today in our modern world, where we easily conclude that it is not possible to live the holy life to which God summons us. Chastity, forgiveness, self-control and diligence in prayer and worship are written off as unrealistic, if not impossible. This is a form of despair because it denies that God’s grace can equip, empower, and enable people to live holy lives. Despair is also about giving up on the idea of achieving heaven because of your insecurities pertaining to your sins and deeming yourself unworthy of God’s heavenly promises. This is against God’s goodness, justice, and mercy. Hope confidently expects from God the graces necessary to attain eternal life. Hence, this type of despair is a sin against the virtue of hope.
The second sin against hope is presumption. Presumption is committed by someone who trusts in his own power to save himself or who presumes on God’s forgiveness without any need for repentance and good works. Fr. Anthony explains that the first type of presumption is when a person believes he can go to heaven without the help of God. They don’t believe in praying or going to church because it is not necessary to go to heaven. However, the truth is with our limited capacity, man cannot go to heaven without God’s help and mercy. This type of presumption is a sin against hope because it ignores God’s grace. The second type of presumption is the rejection of the necessity of our participation in our salvation. An example is when a man assumes that he can commit many sins and God will surely always forgive him because of the promise of eternal life. Fr. Anthony says that we must have the heart to ask God for forgiveness and we must freely accept God’s transformative grace. This sense of entitlement rejects the difficulty of achieving what we hope for by claiming to already “have” it. We must participate in our conversion and allow God to take work within us as we walk towards Him, who has given us the gifts to do so.
To conclude, Fr. Anthony lists the three conditions needed for the virtue of hope: Firstly, an active pursuit of God and Heaven. Secondly, a realization that the attainment of Heaven is possible. Thirdly, a realization that failing to attain Heaven is also possible. Hope tells us and makes us realize that eternal life is real, but we can fail to attain it if we do not participate in our own salvation. Thus, heaven is real when you have hope.
Lord, thank you for giving us your message that the purpose of our existence is to follow you. We are created not for this earth but for heaven. We are not the sons and daughters of the world but we are the sons and daughters of heaven, and we want to be with you, our Father. We know that heaven is a peaceful place—a place of love where there is no trouble nor pain, where there is no death but eternal life and love. We would like to thank you for giving us the power, the longing, the desire, the hope of being closer to you. In the midst of our simplicity, limitations, and weaknesses, you always remind us of the power you bestowed upon us to walk towards you—to participate in our journey towards eternal life. As humans, we have our shortcomings and doubts, but today as we celebrate your resurrection, you have conquered all the negativity within us. You have given us hope as we continue life on earth knowing the reality of heaven. Lord, we also we pray for the congregation that come to this church and the El Shaddai family. We ask you to continue to be with us and to guide us as we continue to pray and offer our lives to you, for one day, after our life here on earth, we will accomplish our desire to be with you in heaven. May Almighty God bless you. In the name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.