Combative Hope

Comic book explosion

combative hope
Combative hope

It’s one of those wonderful oxymorons:

combative hope. And makes no sense at all until you let it sink in. Slowly. And then the phrase hits home because combat is part and parcel of life. All life.

You disagree?

Consider the time energy and sheer grit it took to get to where you are, wherever that is. Weren’t there times that you wanted to just give in?

  • Walk away from needy children?
  • Or your suddenly unlovely spouse?
  • Or the education that got you the job you have now?

Weren’t they combat? And wasn’t the hemorrhaging from the wounds sometimes a flood?

Our lives are composed of many battles.

A theme I’ve written about a  time or two.

I first came across this phrase, combative hope, in In Him Alone is Our Hope: The Church According to the Heart of Pope Francis. It was released just after the Jesuit priest Fr. Jorge Borgoglio, who no one had ever heard of, became Pope.

Jesuit Pope Francis wrote his book from a series of talks given to his fellow priests about the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises.

The Pope suggests that we pray for the grace of a combative hope.

This spiritual hope is much more than mere optimism. It is not full of fan-fare, nor is it afraid of silence. Rather, it penetrates deep down within us, like sap in winter roots. Hope is certain, and it is the Father of Truth who gives it to us. Hope discerns between good and evil. It does not worship at the altar of success: falling into optimism; nor is it content with failure: wallowing in pessimism. Because hope discerns between good and evil, it is called to do combat. Yet it fights without anxiety or illusion, with the assurance of one who knows that he pursues a sure goal…

In Him Alone is our Hope

St. Ignatius is another of my friends.

How can I call a fifteenth-century soldier-turned-priest and founder of the Jesuits friend?

Because I got an answer to a distressing problem through him.

John and I were in Rome, had visited the Vatican several times but it was the Chiesa di Sant Ignazio that beckoned me. St Peter’s was stunning to be sure; the Sistine Chapel, indescribable. But it was at the Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola where I wanted to worship, over and over again. It was there that I wanted to participate in the Mass.

And it was there that I began to think of this long dead man, this soldier who had come to Christ in a way I could get. Seemingly by accident for the lack, if you will, of anything better to do, as a source of direction for me.

Although it felt decidedly strange, I knelt at the coffin-shaped wooden box where his remains are housed and asked for his help—more accurately begged.

I believe in the community of saints... we claim this belief each time we recite the Apostle’s or the Nicene Creed. The community of saints feels itchy when we decide to act on our belief—to take the risk of asking for intercession…to make the invitation to a person or people whom we are told await our invitation. And when we receive a response…what then?

Combative hope
Chiesa di San Ignazio, Roma

In this “post Christian” era,

the word hope is a passive verb describing a weak and timid emotion.

When Pope Francis calls us to the theological virtue of combative hope, he uses a phrase which will knock us off our pews to get our attention. To tell us that this is not the wishy-washy, tentative concept that we call hope but the theological virtue of Hope: Combative Hope. Moreover, that these theological virtues of faith, hope and charity are not mere words but are each infused with the Spirit of Christ.

He’s not using a mere word, one which can be replaced with a synonym without alteration of the meaning or even a euphemism but Something More. Instead, this “Combative Hope” is the Word.

In Paul’s explanation of faith: “The realization of what is hoped for; the evidence of things not seen,” we sense the immense power, mystery and splendor in this, the first of the theological virtues and dimly grasp the Presence suggested by these words.

At first we understood the virtues to be mere words, nouns to be sure, but not fully apprehending the Person who imbues these virtues with Strength and Wisdom far beyond our meager capacities. Now we see hope as a Person; through whom we can wage combat on our frailties; through whom we can come to Love all persons- including those who wage war on our ideas, beliefs and institutions.

That last phrase is worth repeating:

Because hope discerns between good and evil, it is called to do combat. Yet it fights without anxiety or illusion, with the assurance of one who knows that he pursues a sure goal…

In Him Alone is Our Hope

The field of combat?

Let’s be clear: Our battleground is our hearts and minds.

I’m stunned at the speed with which a trivial problem can shred my peace of mind. Usually by doing just one more task at the end of day filled with them.

My day started with an easy job: Planting the milkweed and gregg’s mistflower for the Monarch butterflies. But it took far longer than anticipated. You know how you get started with a thing and it morphs? These plants need pruning, so do these and this super heavy stone needs to move way over here….

Where are those racks to cool the cookies coming out of the oven? Why aren’t they where I keep them?

Just like Seymour when the doorbell rings: Grrrrr….

The source is always the same: ego. pride. Determined to complete the mental list of tasks despite a few taking far more time than anticipated. Hence being late for the last—and most important, Adoration.

Noting my haste, John said, “You can wait until tomorrow to make those…”

“Nope, I promised you cookies for your Marine Corps birthday…”

I think of the magnifying glass. The perfect metaphor descibed by Grace Abruzzo.

““While many people picture the devil with a pitchfork, he actually has a magnifying glass,” writes Father John Paul Oullette, CFR.

“He puts it in front of us some small defect or issue and makes it big. Then he keeps pointing at it until finally the person gets distressed, then depressed, and then falls into despair, maybe even death….”

But we must grab the magnifying glass back, magnifying the good works, like She does: My soul magnifes the Lord.

combative hope
Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus with plain and zigzag border and white background Author of combative hope


  1. Mary says:

    All I can say is Wow and Thank You!

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