Love, Hope & Faith

Did you notice that in the title the usual order of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love has been reversed? Surprisingly, this reversal opens us up to new discoveries. We discover that these three “divine” virtues are not just individual, unconnected virtues but are the components of a dynamic, psychological/spiritual process. We discover too that love is for the most part the driving force in this process. Love is at the very heart of the spiritualization process that leads to strong, living faith in God. Further, we discover that this process is the dynamic growth model for the spiritual life.

These three virtues are important because they comprise the inner dynamics of our relationship to God. They are more than our own virtues; they are the Spirit’s gifts. Fr. Ladislas M. Orsy, SJ says: “God is in possession of our person and He manifests Himself through the vital signs of the living Spirit, gifts welling up in our inner being. He gives the ‘eyes of faith’; He grants the strength of hope; He teaches us the ways of love.” The Spirit drives this dynamic growth process.

Definitions. Let’s begin with Fr. Orsy’s definitions of these “divine virtues.” By faith, we mean that Christ’s Spirit empowers us to discover His presence where our bodily eyes cannot see Him, and through His Word in our hearts to reach an intelligence that no human reasoning can provide. What a wonderful gift of the Spirit!

By hope, we mean that God empowers us with certainty beyond what we can calculate. In earthly matters Fr. Orsy states, “When I say ‘I hope’, I express an expectation that some future event will take a favorable turn for me. I may have a burning wish that it should be so, but I have no certainty.” By contrast, with divine hope the Spirit empowers us with the awareness that we already possess the Kingdom of God in our hearts. “The final outcome is certain; its time and manifestation have not been revealed.”  Allelluia!

When it comes to love, Fr. Orsy dispenses with a definition. Instead, he quotes two directives from St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises: “…The first is that love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words. The second is that love consists in a mutual sharing of goods, for example, the lover gives and shares with the beloved what he or she possesses… and vice versa, the beloved shares with the lover”.

Spiritualization Process. Fr. Orsy continues: “The three virtues form a living and dynamic whole: faith generates knowledge, hope brings certainty, love makes us generous givers beyond any human measure….one cannot exist in its fullness without the others. Faith without hope and love would lead nowhere; love without faith and hope could not even exist….But there is also a difference between faith and the other two virtues. While faith gives vision, hope and love generate action: hope provides the energy that love needs for its operation.”

Thus, we see that these three virtues are components of the spiritualization process. As such, movement in any one of the components will impact the other components. For example, a transforming life experience can change our life vision and give us an infusion of faith, which impacts our capacity to hope and love. But more commonly, it will be love that is the driving force, because God has built into our very nature an erotic hunger that drives us to love of God and others.

While I discovered that love, hope and faith comprised a dynamic process from Fr. Orsy’s analysis, it was the death of a dear friend and a scene in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel, The Brothers Karamazov, that opened my understanding to the primacy of love in the spiritualization process. In his novel, a woman complains to her spiritual director that she has lost her faith in God. He counsels her: “Love your neighbors actively and tirelessly. The more you succeed in loving, the more you will be convinced of the existence of God.”

My new understanding: love actualizes our hope and our faith to their ultimate potential. Love is our greatest act of hope. Love is our greatest act of faith—faith that at the heart of reality is Love whom we call God. Now let us see how our dynamic process of love, hope and faith operate on various paths to faith:

For Non-believers. Fr. John Walsh, M.M. has written about his experience inJapan sharing Christianity with a people who had never heard of Christianity. He says that he could not begin with presenting articles of faith. They would have no interest to them. His strategy?  Help them to discover their spiritual hunger. They had to get in touch with their heart wishes to love, to be loved, to grow, to share their experiences with others. Then they had to discover that they could achieve fulfillment of their heart wishes in the Christian God of love and in a loving Christian community. So helping people to surface their desire for love had to come first. Then, and only then, could they be moved into experiencing hope and faith. Ultimately, the spiritualization process is love, hope and faith!

For Indifferent Christians. What is true for a people unfamiliar with Christianity is equally true for Christians who are indifferent to their faith. You can’t sell them on the basis that we have the one, true faith. You can’t sell them based on Scripture. Fr. Walsh states that we must sell these people on a whole new concept of religion: “Religion is encountering God and others through whom we attain our basic heart wishes.” They must first experience the restlessness in their hearts that only the Infinite can satisfy before they can be moved to an appreciation of their Christian faith and a desire for spirituality.  Ultimately, the spiritualization process is love, hope and faith!

For Spiritually Hungry. Most models of spiritual growth require people to pursue holiness by growing in faith, to search for spiritual formation, and to live lives of sharing lovingly their faith with others, known as evangelization. Growth in holiness is usually the initiating force that drives this process. It prompts us to search for ways to deepen our holiness through spiritual formation. The result is that we are driven to evangelization. But the process does not stop there. Our evangelization driven by love grows us in holiness and spiritual formation. Why is this true?

We have to look at the psychology of human action. By action, we mean our willing, choosing and doing by which we become ourselves. We are formed through our actions.  Our actions reflect our vision of life and values. Evangelization is formation through our loving action toward others. Our loving evangelization grows our hope in the capacity of love to fulfill our heart wishes, and grows our faith in God Who is love.  For when we share our faith with others, we evangelize ourselves most of all. Ultimately, the spiritualization process is love, hope and faith!

For Married Couples. The Church has never offered married couples a spirituality, a spiritualization process. For almost 2,000 years the only redeeming value of marriage was the production of children. Ignored have been the psychological/spiritual challenges of married life. Couples challenge one another physically, spiritually, psychologically, intellectually, morally. For the unaware, marriage is indeed a tender trap.

Given these psychological-spiritual challenges, will marriage strengthen couples’ self-centeredness or move them to God-centeredness? Will they be able to befriend their marital alienations? What will be the ultimate goal of their marriage? For example, an intentionality of growth as self-giving persons. Will living a life with a person who is so much like oneself and yet so different from oneself lead to cynicism or to compassion? Compassion in the sense of being fully present to the other with a caring heart and attentive mind. Will it lead to a compassionate life for one another, for others, for God?

Could it be that the reversal of the theological virtues into love, hope and faith offers married couples a fitting life vision for their vocation? I believe so. This spiritualization process produces growth in mutual love which flows out beyond the couple to others in Christian love and compassion. Hope springs forth from growth in mutual love. Hope that will give married couples the energy for a life of love. Hope that transforms their human eros into compassion for others. Love and hope that feed their faith in the power and presence of love which is ultimately God. Ultimately, the spiritualization process is love, hope and faith!

Last Testament. The death of a dear friend inspired this imagined dialogue between a dying woman and an officiating priest. The priest comes to administer the Sacrament of Healing to the dying patient. After he has completed the ritual, the patient asks the priest:

“Are people still talking about love? Are love songs still being written and sung?”

“Of course”, the priest answers.

“Are couples still getting married?” the patient persists. “Are preachers still preaching about love?”

“Yes, why do you ask?” the priest questions.

“Because love matters,” the patient replies. “If love exists, if love is real, God exists and love is forever. And I have a future.”

Ultimately, the spiritualization process is love, hope and faith!


This article will soon appear in the Spiritual Development Program on the Cursillo website:

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