Merciful Love is Hopeful

The Incarnate Word was born not in a palace, mansion, or even in an ordinary home, but in a cave; he came into the world with nothing, except an earthly mother and father who loved him with all their heart. That was all Christ wanted, nothing else. What is truly valuable is not gold, fame, or power… but family relationships. May we discover and treasure this in our own life and foster the conditions to make our own relationships grow.

Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 13:7, Pope Francis suggests that loving relationships require a love that “hopes all things”:

Panta elpízei. Love does not despair of the future… this phrase speaks of the hope of one who knows that others can change, mature and radiate unexpected beauty and untold potential. This does not mean that everything will change in this life. It does involve realizing that, though things may not always turn out as we wish, God may well make crooked lines straight and draw some good from the evil we endure in this world (Amoris Lætitia 116).

We can all “change, mature and radiate unexpected beauty and untold potential,” and the same is true with others. God loves each one of us unconditionally, even before any change is seen in our behavior, so we should learn this by loving each person before seeing any change. Sometimes God waits for years, even for a lifetime, before he sees any change in us, but he always finds ways to draw good from evil of our sins, failings, and defects, whether in this life or in Purgatory. Hope helps us to endure the hardships we experience in physical ailments as well as the hardships due to personal failings and defects in difficult relationships; we can endure these hardships because we have the expectation of the peace and joy that will come with eternity. This is hope. As the Pope explains:

Here hope comes most fully into its own, for it embraces the certainty of life after death. Each person, with all his or her failings, is called to the fullness of life in heaven. There, fully transformed by Christ’s resurrection, every weakness, darkness and infirmity will pass away. There the person’s true being will shine forth in all its goodness and beauty. This realization helps us, amid the aggravations of this present life, to see each person from a supernatural perspective, in the light of hope, and await the fullness that he or she will receive in the heavenly kingdom, even if it is not yet visible (Amoris Lætitia 117).

What makes family relationships most frustrating is that we expect to see changes in others on our terms and within our time constraints. Yet God is more merciful than we are and has a much bigger picture of things. This is exemplified in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) where Christ shows us how God respects our free will and waits for us to come to our senses and return on our own. Thus he helps us understand that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).

We can and should have the perfect love that “hopes all things,” with the patience that respects God’s time, God’s terms, and each person’s freewill, as we wait for changes in ourselves and in others. Then our joy will be complete. As the Pope writes:

Jesus offers a justice other than that of the world, so often marred by petty interests and manipulated in various ways. Experience shows how easy it is to become mired in corruption, ensnared in the daily politics of quid pro quo, where everything becomes business. How many people suffer injustice, standing by powerlessly while others divvy up the good things of this life. Some give up fighting for real justice and opt to follow in the train of the winners. This has nothing to do with the hunger and thirst for justice that Jesus praises.

True justice comes about in people’s lives when they themselves are just in their decisions; it is expressed in their pursuit of justice for the poor and the weak. While it is true that the word “justice” can be a synonym for faithfulness to God’s will in every aspect of our life, if we give the word too general a meaning, we forget that it is shown especially in justice towards those who are most vulnerable: “Seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Gaudete et Exsultate 78-79, quoting Isaiah 1:17).

Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.