SJ Lent 2024


Posted : Feb-28-2024

Benedict XVI wrote an encyclical letter entitled “Saved by Hope”, in 2007. He reminded us that of the three great theological virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity, Hope is probably the least understood nowadays. Benedict saw the problem in modern “individualism”, especially in the so-called “post–Christian” world.  

 We tend to believe that justice is something we human beings can devise and impose upon ourselves and rather than trust in God’s power and love, we turn inwards towards human institutions and ‘structures.’ Then when these fail us, as they always do, then we lose hope. So we become prey to cynicism and despair.

     In order to counteract this slide into hopelessness, Benedict rather surprisingly takes us back to the imagery of the Last Judgement, which is so often ignored today except as a subject in religious works of art. He reminds us that at the Last Judgement the real value of everything that has ever been done will be revealed, and so justice will be done. In one obvious sense this is frightening, as are the traditional artistic representations of the “Doom”, (as the mediaeval English called the Last Judgement).

     The word “Doom” has remained in our language as suggesting final destruction, yet in origin the word means simply “Judgement”. Benedict reminds us that, for the faithful, judgement brings hope. Here he brings in the doctrine of Purgatory. Of course, he says, the Last Judgement will see the final destruction of all those who have worked against God and His faithful servants, but it will also bring about the final restoration of those who, during this life, have tried to love God, though imperfectly. God’s forgiveness, says Benedict, does not wipe away the stains of sin and imperfection “like a sponge” wiping the slate clean, but by “fire”, as St. Paul teaches us in the first Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 3:13). This idea is at the root of our understanding of “Purgatory”.

     Purgatory is not principally concerned with punishment, as many have believed in the past, but with purification from the stains of sin which separate us from God’s holiness. Hope saves us by teaching us that human history is not “doomed” to self-destruction, but that God has already definitively stepped in to save us in Christ. Christ’s life, death and resurrection are the means by which we are saved from self destruction and from the misery of the unredeemed human condition.  We are reminded once again to refocus our whole Christian life on the image of Christ as the One who will “come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” and so bring justice and life to all His faithful.       So we pray, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!” (Apoc. 22:20)   ~ FR. PAUL DOBSON