“Grant me no more than that you let my blood be spilled in sacrifice to God, while there is yet an altar ready…I die willingly for God, provided you do not interfere. I beg you, do not show me unseasonable kindness. Suffer me to be the food of the wild beasts, which are the means of my making my way to God. God’s wheat I am, and by the teeth of wild beasts I am to be ground that I may prove Christ’s true bread.” – St. Ignatius of Antioch (From his letter to the Romans, written on the way to be martyred in 110 A.D.) 

The Catechism defines hope as “the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 1817)

Hope relies on faith and fosters the cardinal virtue of fortitude. Hope helps us remain steadfast in the belief that what was promised to us by Christ will come true. As faith is not blind, hope is not baseless. St. Ignatius had hope that he would see God because of his sure faith in Jesus Christ. We should be so sure in our faith in Jesus that our hope is also sure.

Unfortunately, we have had experiences in which our hopes were dashed, or that what we had hoped for and in whom we had hoped didn’t come to fruition. Either letting us down or betraying us. With these types of contradictions to having hope, we should still get up each day, forgive and love.  

Losing hope and sinking into hopelessness can lead to depression, despair and eventually death. This was the path of Judas after losing hope in the mercy of Jesus. When Judas betrays Jesus in the garden, Jesus calls him “friend” offering Judas a path to redemption. Judas refuses this and ends his own life.  Peter, on the other hand, clings to hope and repents, even after denying Jesus three times. Peter’s hope is well founded in his faith in Jesus.

The deepest and most profound let down one could experience is written for us in the story of the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). The two disciples had just witnessed Jesus, whom they had believed and hoped was the Messiah long awaited by Israel, die. Jesus had performed amazing miracles, drove out demons, and raised people from the dead. But they witnessed him suffer and die. The one who would save them from their enemies and establish the everlasting kingdom of God was now dead. 

“We can’t have hope in a dead guy to rescue us from our enemies, now can we?” they must have thought. It makes sense that they would leave Jerusalem and head in another direction, perhaps to go back and resume the life they had before.

But we read that in their hopelessness, Jesus drew near to them, walked with them and asked them about their conversation. The two disciples respond, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened in these days? The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene…we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” (Lk 24:18-21) While the disciples were intent on hoping for a temporal relief of their oppression, God was concerned with the true oppression of sin and death.

We fortunately know “all the things that have happened in these days,” yet, have we behaved in the same way, walking away, faithless and hopeless because things seem out of control, not going as we planned?  Are we placing our hope in Jesus to save and rescue us from the real enemy, or are we blinded by our own ideas of temporal salvation?

Even the reports of the empty tomb left them only amazed, but still with little faith and no hope. It is precisely in this moment, that man has no answer, no solution, and no power that our temporal aspirations and achievements crumble and dissolve. We are left sad, defeated and often enslaved. Here is where hope lies. Not in man, but rather in the one who draws near in that very moment of our human defeat. When we on our own have nothing, Jesus draws near to speak to us. He answers our pleas for his healing embrace and rescue. 

But hope that distorts to presumption, leads to the same place as despair. St. Ignatius’ exhortation to the Romans to not interfere with his soon to be martyrdom is not presumptuous. Notice he says, “that I may prove Christ’s true bread.” St. Paul after exhorting the Philippians to, “work out their salvation in fear and trembling,” says about his own salvation, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect; but I press on to make it my own.” (Philippians 2:12, 3:12) Neither Paul nor Ignatius, both martyrs for Christ, presumed they had been and were saved. They had faith in Jesus, which was the base on which they had hope for their salvation. 

How is it that two martyrs did not presume their salvation yet today others suggest, “Once saved always saved?” While it sounds like confident expectation in God’s help, it is really presumption. In this presumption, there is no reason for me to live the Gospel or much less give up my life for the Gospel. We are to be witnesses (martyr in the Greek) of Christ. If Paul or Ignatius believed in the presumption of once saved always saved, then why would they have to sacrifice so much? Hope is the desire for the kingdom to be attained, not that which has already been attained.  If we have already attained it, we don’t have hope, nor would we need it.  

We have hope through the eyes of faith that the desire of our heart will allow us to see him face to face.  That flame of desire in our hearts is enkindled by Sacred Scripture like the disciples on the Road to Emmaus. It is then that we can see the Kingdom, which is Jesus himself.

The two disciples on the Road to Emmaus weren’t ready to recognize Jesus in the manner he would now be present.  And so the Gospel tells us that he first admonishes them and then opens up the Scriptures and “beginning with Moses and the prophets, interpreted them all the things concerning himself.” Then when their hearts are burning, Jesus takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it and gives it to them. Their faith is restored and so now they can hope. It is only when their hearts were prepared by the Word of God in Scripture that they recognize the Word of God present in the Eucharist. The way in which he will now be present and seen and “remain with us.” And because he is present to us now, we have well founded hope to one day see him as he is, face to face.

By Robert L. Judge

Robert L. Judge earned his MA in Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in December 2020. He completed his undergraduate degree in secondary science education from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Robert also studied curriculum and Instruction and gifted education at the University of New Orleans and ULL. A native of New Orleans, LA, Robert now resides with his bride of 33 years in Lafayette, LA. He and his wife, Annette, are the parents of five children and the grandparents of five. He serves as an extraordinary Eucharistic minister and lector at Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Church and Student Center, and as a Eucharistic minister at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital. Robert is a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor society and a Knight of Columbus, 3rd Degree.