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Faith, Hope, & Charity by Harriet Lee Sporn, O.F.S.









Faith, Hope & Charity by Harriet Lee Sporn, O.F.S.

Our Faith, supported by Hope, must be directed to a Love that never ends. The three theological virtues are foundational in our journey

Faith: Gk. Pistis

Mary’s fiat, “be it done unto me according to Thy will” is the prime example of perfect faith. For us, every time we say, “I believe” or “I confess”, we acknowledge the theological virtue of faith, which is given to us by God as a grace—it is a gift. It is also an obligation, which flows from the First Commandment, and it becomes our response to God (Rom 1:5 and l6:26).

God reveals Himself to man and enables us to walk in His light as we search for the ultimate meaning of life. In the obedience of faith (Latin ob-audire, to hear or to listen to), we must submit willingly to the word that we hear.

The Greek word pistis is derived from pisteou, which means to believe and is also related to the Greek word meaning “to persuade”. In the NT it has the sense of “trust” as in 1 Cor 2:5 where St. Paul reminds the Corinthians that their pistis is durable because it is based on the power of God. The word also connotes a sense of “faithfulness”, rather than an individual belief. Pistis suggests more than a decision to believe—it suggests a change in conduct by surrender to God’s purpose.

Faith is acceptance and believing in something we cannot see (Heb 11:1). We can say we believe even when we don’t know. Faith allows us to “know” without subjective verification, and this provides inner unity of our human and divine natures. We become whole and live in Our Father’s house, which is, of course, the Kingdom of God. We learn and experience that we are in the world but not of it. We learn that faith is of the Divine, it is transcendent and it is objective. It must be merged with our human qualities, which are earthly and subjective.

Think of the merger of the Divine and the human in terms of the Cross. If you draw a circle at the crossbeam, you will see the place where the head of Jesus rests on that Cross—the merger of the Divine and the human. It is by awareness and acceptance of the paradox of the Cross that we are given:

Light in darkness

Truth instead of error

Fullness in emptiness

Strength in weakness

Glory instead of shame and human praise

Self worth instead of self-abasement

Richness in poverty

Beauty in the sordid and shabby

Peace in conflict and temptation

Love in detachment

Companionship in loneliness

The Word in the silence

Life in death


St. Paul would call this “Life in the Spirit”, a new life in the Kingdom of God. The parable of the Mustard Seed teaches us about the seed of Faith (Mt. 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18). Accepted and nourished, the Kingdom of God can grow from the smallest seed to the largest of plants.

Who could not want the wholeness that faith provides? So how do we proceed, how do we respond to the gift of faith? We must profess the gift of faith in word and deed. We accomplish that through prayer– giving thanks, praise and obedience. In each letter of St. Paul (except for 2 Cor), Paul gives thanks to God. We also pray for desire, that through the gifts of the Holy Spirit we will be open to the grace necessary to respond to the immense love that God first gave to us, through the obedience of His crucified Son. In faith we also need to pray to Mary, The Mother of God, reflecting on the beautiful Alma Redemptoris Mater:

All nature stood still in wonder

When you gave flesh to your own flesh’s


The Greek word for thanksgiving is Eucharisteo. While this word is not normally used in a sacramental way in the NT, we can see a movement in the early Church to identify “thanksgiving” with “sacrament”, especially in the story of the loaves and fishes (Jn 6:11). Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the Church’s daily remembrance of and sharing in his Passover, and the Sacrament of Eucharist is the source and summit of our Christian life. Our faith life must first embrace His Real Presence in the Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity—if we are to give thanks and allow the love of His Real Presence to overflow into our daily lives.

In the Introduction to his Apostolic Exhortation Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis tells us that memory is a dimension of faith, like the memory of Israel itself. The believer, the person of faith, is essentially “one who remembers” (Pg. 18). We all need to reflect on the story of salvation history, and then on our individual and unique blessings and gifts. We need to say, “I confess” in the Sacrament of Penance, acknowledging who He is and who we are yet to become. Then we can give thanks by receiving Him in the Eucharist frequently, praising and thanking Him during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and by letting our joy of remembrance spill over to those around us for the common good of all humanity and the entire world.

Hope: Gk. Elpis

Hope supports simplicity of faith. It requires trust. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1820-1821) tells us that hope:

Responds to man’s aspiration for happiness

Inspires man’s activities and purifies them, ordering them to the Kingdom of Heaven

Keeps man from discouragement

Sustains in times of abandonment

Opens man’s hearts to expectations

Preserves from selfishness

Leads to the happiness that flows from charity

We need only to look at the story of Noah in the Book of Genesis for an example of hope. Noah was asked to endure a lot of overcast days—clouds and rain dominate his story—but Noah didn’t look at the clouds. He looked within and saw the promise of renewed life. He saw the seeds of new beginnings and was rewarded with a rainbow, the symbol of hope beyond the clouds. The rainbow was a miracle, a sign of God’s presence, and it is important to remember that miracles don’t cause faith, they follow it.

Let us take a closer look at the image of rainbows. We know they are formed by refraction and reflection of the sun’s rays as they fall on drops of rain. A ray of sun is refracted when it enters a raindrop and it disperses and separates into different colors. But when that ray reaches the inner surface of the drop, it is reflected, turned back.

When we look at ourselves, our own multi-colored hue, we are bound to see refraction, division and sin. We should hope that the many facets of ourselves will someday blend into a harmonious whole, a rainbow, and be reflected back to God our Father, through Jesus.

Christian hope originated when Jesus preached the Beatitudes (Mt. 5:1-12). Christians began to long for the Promised Land, their souls hoping for Heaven and the coming of the Kingdom. Through the Incarnation, our Hope is in the Lord.

In the Diocese of Charleston, we are blessed to have a Marian shrine in Kingstree, SC, which is dedicated to Our Lady of South CarolinaOur Lady of Joyful Hope. The seal and motto of the State of South Carolina were the sources for the name and symbols of the icon of the Shrine. The State motto is “While I breathe, I hope”.

The icon depicts Mary, one arm outstretched, holding the rosary in her hand, and holding the infant Jesus in the other arm, with the Christ child holding the Eucharist. The three scripture quotes on the icon are (1) “Behold the Lamb of God (John 1:29), (2) “Behold your Mother” (John 19:27) and (3) “The just flourish like the palm tree” (Psalm 92:13). The palm tree, as we know, is evident on the South Carolina State flag and fits in well with the icon of Hope. The particular grace and charism of this Shrine is taken from Romans 12:12 which encourages us to “rejoice in hope”.

The Mission Statement of the Shrine says that it a “diocesan prayer to our Mother for the gift of hope, a hope that is joyful because it is certain and trustworthy, founded on the life, death and resurrection of her Divine Son”. The Official prayer to Our Lady of South Carolina is one we should pray frequently:

“Through our prayers to you, Mother of Joyful Hope, especially through the

Rosary, help us to become people of hope and of joy radiating God’s love for

us always, in your Son Jesus Christ.”


Love: Gk. Agape

We first learn of God’s great love for us in the story of Creation. After the Fall, we know He pursued man immediately to offer reconciliation when he called out, “Adam, where are you?” (Gen 3:8). To understand Love, we have to be aware of the Divine Economy of Salvation. By himself, man is unable to love God—we must be raised up by the grace of God.

The final act of love is the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. A key passage in Scripture is 1 John 4:16: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God and God in him”. We might say this is the core theological concept of the NT, which seeks essentially to reveal God to its readers and to show how one may come to share God’s life. In His final prayer before his passion and death, Jesus prays to the Father, “that the love with which you love me may be in them and I in them” (Jn 17:26). Jesus reveals to humanity the highest form of love imaginable and one, which will never end. It is this very fact that makes the NT “gospel” or “good news”.

The whole of our faith must be directed to a love that never ends. In charity, we must love God above all things for His own sake and our neighbors as ourselves. This charity resides in the heart, and sins against charity in thought, word, deed or omission can wound love (venial sin) or destroy love (mortal sin). It is interesting to note that the Greek word for sin is harmatia, a word borrowed from the field of archery—it literally means, “to miss the mark”. We might never make a bull’s eye, but we know that all things are possible in God through faith, supported by hope, if only we remember that Jesus is The Way, the Truth and the Life.

Love, as expressed in the Greek word agape must be sacrificial, as is the Love of God through the death of Jesus. It involves kenosis, or emptying of self, just as Jesus did on the Cross. To love is to live according to His Commandments and to be willing to lay down one’s life for a friend.


It is interesting to note that our English language limits us—we only have one word for love. In the Greek language there is another important word for love –phileo. There are also two other words, one is eros (erotic love) and the other is storge (parental love). Only phileo is important here, because it is crucial to understanding Jesus’ love for us in our state of broken humanity.

Whereas agape refers to God’s very nature, phileo refers more to friendship and affection. Jesus’ own words in Jn 21:15-17 teaches us His great love for us. The first and second time that Jesus asks Peter “do you love me” He uses the word agape. Perhaps sensing that Peter did not fully understand his meaning of the word, Jesus asked Peter a third time if he loved Him, this time using the word phileo. This conveys a different meaning. He was asking Peter if he really loved him, as a friend, as a brother.

By using the word phileo in His third question to Peter, we could say that Jesus shows Peter he forgives his three-fold denial. He wants Peter to know that he is forgiven and accepted as a friend, a brother. God’s love is thus revealed both in a supernatural sense and a highly human and physical sense, a result of the Incarnation. Agape may be God’s love in His very nature, but phileo assures us of God’s tender human affection and compassion, his forgiveness, even when we deny Him.

We often say, “God loves me” in the sense of agape because this is revealed in Scripture as an essential element of Christian doctrine. It is of the head, and we respond out of a sense of obligation. We sometimes forget that He also loves us in His humanity, in the sense of phileo, which is of the heart, and we should respond from the heart. We need only to live in Faith, Hope and Charity—to confess and to profess ourselves before Him, retaining the awe of agape, but allowing ourselves to be united with Jesus on the Cross through phileo.


In the NT, St. Paul tells us “so faith, hope, love remain, but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor 13-13).

The imagery of the Crib and the Cross can help us. In the crib, the arms of the infant Jesus were extended, not closed; they continued to open wide until they were fully extended on the Cross– open to love in both life and in death. So often we are tempted to close our arms as we progress in our journey, to be finally laid to rest with closed palms across our chest. We close in on ourselves because of our hurt, our pain, our brokenness, and our separation. We must struggle to keep our arms open as the infant in the crib, until we resemble the crucified Christ on the cross, the Love that never ends.

Let us rejoice that we have been given the gifts of Faith, Hope and Love as the foundation of our journey, and let us do our best to respond, giving Holy Mother Church the authority to interpret Natural Law for us, when needed, to discern specific issues of faith and morals in our daily lives.

I will conclude my thoughts by reflecting on the words in Mt. 18:3: “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. Let us learn to have the faith and hope of little children and learn to love Him unconditionally. To assist us in the road we have only begun to travel, let us read Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei. Geared to a New Evangelization, our Holy Father recognizes the power of prayer. He welcomed the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to the Vatican for a remarkable event of peace prayers on Sunday, June 8, 2014 just after the last round of U.S. sponsored negotiations collapsed.

Even Pope Francis’ Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has said that the power of prayer should not be discounted for its ability to change reality. He said that prayer should be exploited to the full because prayer has the ability to transform hearts and thus to transform history. Let us be mindful, and let us depend on the virtues of Faith, Hope & Love, so that we all may be one in Christ.

Harriet Lee Sporn. O.F.S.

June 14, 2014

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