Faith and Life

The Helmet of Hope

There is a little bridge in Paris, close to the Île de la Cité, which is barely able to stand because of the weight of the padlocks which have been attached to it. The railings of the bridge are no longer visible – only the numerous padlocks. There are so many of them now, that even to cut them from the rails would be a monumental task – and so, there they remain.

Often, our lives can seem like that little bridge – our problems are like those padlocks, weighing us down tremendously, to the extent that any thought of removing them seems impossible. And it is then that we are tempted to give in to despair.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why the virtue of hope takes on such prominence in the Gospels – hope is the antithesis, the antidote, to despair. Hope keeps us going, even when the thought of keeping going seems well beyond our abilities.

The Letter to the Thessalonians describes hope as being a ‘helmet’ (cf. 1 Thess.5:8) – and a helmet protects the wearer; hope protects us from giving in to despair.

I often read the online words of people who are struggling in one way or another – with some sin, some flaw they perceive in their character, something in their lives they feel unable to make better. These people commonly note the long-standing nature of these things which afflict them, such that they often reach a point where they feel unable to continue and are tempted simply to give way to whatever troubles them.

Our Christian sense of hope – this virtue of hope – impels us to do differently, that we not give in or give way, that we keep going, no matter what. It is easy for someone else to suggest this to us – they are not suffering whatever we are living with; and yet, that does not make the suggestion any less worthwhile or valid. Sometimes, it is that word – offered in charity by another person – which is designed and intended to keep us going just a little longer, just long enough that we can gather up our interior resources, supported by the grace of God and often by the prayers of others. Those few moments might be precisely what we need to find the strength, the fortitude, to go on.

Now, all of this does not necessarily mean that our struggle, our sin, our flaw, whatever it is, will be removed from us; Saint Paul discovered this – but he discovered, too, that it is precisely in this moment of struggle that divine grace really comes to the fore.

Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me.
But He said to me –
‘My grace is sufficient for you,
for power is made perfect in weakness.’

We cannot understand the will of God nor His divine plan for us. We have to hope and to trust in Him. Whatever trials He permits to befall us, He gives us the grace not only to bear them, but also to put them to good use, that some good might come from them. Weightlifters lift up ever greater weights – not an easy thing to do, certainly, but they do it regardless; and in the doing of it, they build muscle, which then allows even greater weight to be added. Perhaps, in some sense, this is what we are called to do in the midst of our own personal trials and tribulations.

We might find that our trials are removed from us, if the Lord wills this. But it may be they are not removed from us – and then we must trust while keeping going. The struggle is bearing fruit, even if we cannot presently perceive it within us or around us. We must trust in Him. He knows what He is doing.

Sometimes it seems to me that the Lord is looking for precisely this trust in the midst of our sufferings, our weaknesses, our sins or our flaws. The ‘things’ themselves might not change to any great degree – but we are changed by the bearing of them with fortitude and with trust in the Lord.

In the summer of the year 1900, a man called Mark Ji Tianxiang died in China. A doctor, he had contracted a disease which was treated with opium; this resulted in his becoming heavily addicted to the drug, an addiction which persisted for the next thirty years. Mark was also a deeply committed Catholic – but, because of his addiction, he was refused the Sacraments of the Church, even absolution, during those long years because he was not able to commit to giving up his addiction. He finally died a martyr, refusing to renounce his Catholic faith. He was canonised in the year 2000. The point of briefly telling his story here is to illustrate that God is not confined in any way, nor is the action of His divine grace. That grace shines a clear light even into the deepest and most bitter darkness of our lives. It is a purifying and an illuminating light, even if we ourselves cannot see it.

God is mercy. He is compassionate love. He is faithful. He does not give up on us – not even when we give up on Him. This is the message of the Good Shepherd, of the Welcoming Father, of the Lost Sheep. It is the message of the Cross itself, upon which Christ died for love of every single one of us. God does not forget His promises, even if we cannot understand the ways He chooses by which to fulfil them.

If you, reading this, are close to giving up, if you feel hopeless, if you bear the heavy weight of your sinfulness even over many years, I tell you this – do not give up. Do not despair. Hold on to hope. No matter who or what you are, no matter what you have done, God is ablaze with love for you. If Satan himself has his claws dug firmly into you – still, do not give up. Keep going. Perhaps the Lord is not so much looking for you to triumph, but to submit in humility to His plans, with trust in Him. God rewards the effort, not the success.

God’s grace is indeed sufficient for us; and it is made perfect in our weakness.

Keep going.

Trust in Him.



Catholic | Retired Nurse | UK

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