Moral Theologians instruct us that there are three main virtues, known as theological virtues. They are Faith, Hope and Caritas. Caritas is one of those specialized Latin words. Sometimes it is translated as Love; at other times Charity. In English, of course, there is a vast difference between Love and Charity, though presumably any act of Charity springs from an intrinsic attitude of love which finds its expression towards meeting the need of an individual or group.
In 1 Corinthians 13, Saint Paul articulates that the greatest of these virtues is love, and that is doubtlessly inspired by the words of Saint John’s Gospel such as we have heard this morning. But we might notice just how inter related these are. Faith, in the way in which Saint Paul expresses it, is not a dogmatic system of belief—as we sometimes refer to the Christian Faith—as an expression of systematic theology. No, in Saint Paul, it is different. Faith is a thing that springs from our response to the love of God which we have encountered in Jesus Christ. As a virtue, Faith entails the development of a dynamic relationship of trust towards God. It also entails a dynamic relationship of trust towards other people in our lives. So we place our faith in those of whom we have the experience that they have earned our trust.
But without faith, hope is not possible. One of the great things that springs from our capacity to grow in faith is the capacity to have hope. Absent faith, eventually the human spirit becomes hopeless, downtrodden, browbeaten into the dust of the earth. Absent hope, the only response that makes sense is radical alienation.
Carried to its logical extension that means separation from God, from one’s fellow human beings, and ultimately from life itself. One finds that sense of radical alienation in the existential philosophy of the last century; one finds it also expressed certain hate groups that seem to be gaining ascendency today. Because if I have no hope and no influence of positivity, something essentially has to come in to fill that void. Those might include: fellowship with others who express their radical alienation in the same manner as do I; it might have to do with turning to drugs, or alcohol to numb the innate human drive to find meaning to life.
If it is true that without faith, there is no hope, it is also true that without hope, humans have a diminished capacity for love. If I have no ideal, nothing in which to believe, then why should I be concerned about anything other than myself. Absent faith, hope and love we all too quickly find ourselves down a path to sociopathy.
And that is why religious experience is fundamentally a part of what makes us human. It serves as a critical reminder that
-life has meaning and has a purpose
-that life is based on a series of relationships with G od and with our brothers and sisters, our fellow human beings, and the family of humankind,
-Faith, hope and love channel our attention from negative, self-destructive thinking to positivity and potential rather than failure and self-loathing. Without these, the world devolves into a vicious, hostile environment.
In 1971, a somewhat obscure Country singer/songwriter published a cut “Angels from Montgomery.” That song had a bit of popularity when it was performed by Bonnie Raitt. The Chorus is:
Make me an angel that flies from Montgom’ry
Make me a poster of an old rodeo
Just give me one thing that I can hold on to
To believe in this living is just a hard way to go
So it is for good reason that we are reminded of these virtues: Faith, Hope, and love do more than abide forever. They are the minimum required building blocks that make us human. Want to be human? Abide in the love of Jesus, strive to live a life filled with faith and hope.