A friend once described the spiritual life in this way: Each of us is a child with an instinct for beauty, and God, who is the Beauty behind all beauty, is the hidden presence we naturally seek to touch. We spend our lives reaching for that beauty. But creation is so very great, and we’re so very small, that we can accomplish very little — until God stoops down to provide us with a stool to stand on, so that we can stretch out and touch his face.
The legs of that stool are faith, hope and love; and these three great “theological virtues” are what I pray God will fill each of us with in the days of Holy Week and throughout the Easter season.
Faith gives meaning. Human beings were made for a purpose; only faith provides it; and without it the soul will die. Faith is not simply doctrines, though these are essential. Faith is not sentiment, or knowledge, or law, though all these play a vital role in our life of faith. Faith is the certitude that God exists and loves us, because he has revealed himself in the one way which doesn’t leave much room for disagreement: his palpable presence in our lives.
Of course the irony, as C.S. Lewis once wrote, is that the hardest thing to believe is something we’ve just preached or defended to another. Before ascending to his Father, Jesus told his disciples to preach and teach the good news. That command includes us. But giving the truth away to another person can leave an empty place in our own hearts. The only way to refill that space is to turn back to God and beg him again for his presence. This is one important reason why we pray.
Hope gives joy. Every Christian sooner than later discovers that his own skills are too poor, and his sins too stubborn, to be the kind of disciple the world needs — unless the Easter miracle is true and the resurrected Jesus, once dead but now alive again, is real and present in our lives. Hope sinks its roots in faith and flowers in joy. At the end of the day, there are no unhappy saints. Easter is the great feast of hope, and in the centuries since the empty tomb, we’re all living in the morning of the Resurrection every day. We’re part of an endless triumph of life; a message which sets itself, in this world, against a culture of death. The task of every believer is therefore to be a witness to the Resurrection and an agent of hope.
Finally, love gives life. Christ’s love on the Good Friday cross gave life to the world on Easter. All love is fruitful. Every person’s life animated by love is fertile and creates new life according to his or her unique vocation; some in the flesh, some in the spirit, but new life nonetheless. The better we love, the more we become the hands of God, sculpting the new beauty of a redeemed creation.
Love draws us into God himself. And from our hearts, love calls out two other virtues which spring from it: humility, which allows us to forget ourselves and cherish the dignity of others; and courage, which enables us to live and speak the truth not as a weapon, but as a gift. It isn’t enough to speak the truth. We need, as Paul wrote, to speak the truth in love.
This year during Holy Week, let’s remember that the spiritual life of every Christian should be fired by the words Jesus shared with his apostles on the night he was betrayed: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12).
Christ’s suffering and death on Good Friday bore fruit in our salvation. When we seek to love with Christ’s intensity — as the apostles did; as every disciple is called to do — the light of Christ’s resurrection will enter our families and begin to transform every life we touch.
Such love changed the world once. It can do so again. May God grant all of us a blessed Holy Week and Easter season — and the faith and hope, the love, humility and courage, to live Easter every day of the year.