Mystery of Hope
Charles Peguy (1873-1914) was an essayist, editor, and one of the best-loved French poets. Born into abject poverty in Orleans, France, he grew up as a radical socialist and nationalist. However, when he realized his socialist party had betrayed socialism as well as his country, he broke all his ties with the party. Moreover, he joined the army, valiantly fought, and died for his beloved country during World War I. At that time, he was only 41 years old.
When Peguy was young he was an agnostic. However, later he became an ardent believer in God and converted to Catholicism. And his strong faith made him acutely aware of God’s presence in his life. This deep awareness of God’s presence in his life is reflected in his poems written after his conversion. Written in 1912, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope comes under this category. It was a bestseller for a long time having more than 60 editions in French.
As the name of the poem suggests, the theme of this long poem is hope. Peguy presents hope as “little girl Hope” with Faith and Love (Charity) as her older sisters. They are three virtues traveling together in life. Even though hope is generally seen as the ‘littlest’ virtue, for him it is the greatest virtue of all. In this poem, Peguy presents God speaking about hope as well as about the other two virtues.
He writes, “The faith I love best, says God, is hope. Faith does not surprise me. It is not surprising. … I shine forth so in my creation. So that in order not to really see me, it would have to be that these people were blind. Charity, says God, does not surprise me. … These poor creatures are so unhappy that, unless they had a heart of stone, they could not help but love one another.”
The poem continues, “But Hope … that is something that surprises me. Even me. … That these poor children see how things are going and believe that tomorrow things will go better. … That is surprising.” In the rest of the poem, Peguy attempts to compare the other two virtues with hope and argues that “It is she, this little one, who leads them all.” He also gives his arguments in support of his thesis. He writes, “For Faith sees only what is. And she, she sees what will be. Charity loves only what is. And she, she loves what will be. Faith sees what is. In Time and in Eternity. Hope sees what will be. In Time and for Eternity.”
Let us stop his poem here for the time being and let us look at our own life for a moment. One thing that is special about all of us is that we are a people of hope. Even in the midst of crises and tragedies in life, it is hope that gives us strength to go forward. However, there are times we feel like giving up when we are confronted by serious tragedies in life like the unexpected death of a loved one, terminal illness and tragic failure in business or in some other aspects of life. It is precisely because of this that we need to become aware of the redeeming value of hope in our life.
Peguy wrote this poem to remind us of the importance of hope in sustaining and strengthening our life. When we have hope we will try to rise again immediately after we fall; we will fight against our enemies until we win; we will work hard to overcome the obstacles we face; we will never give up even after tasting bitter defeat believing that success is in store for us. However, if we are deprived of hope our life will be like hell.
Let us now come back to his poem. After saying that “these poor children see how things are going and believe that tomorrow things will go better,” God continues, “That is surprising and it’s by far the greatest marvel of our grace. And I’m surprised by it myself. And my grace must indeed be an incredible force.” That means, if there is hope in us about a better future even amidst tragedies and failures, it is because of the grace of God. It is God who gives us hope and strength to go forward.
Whatever happens in our life happens with the knowledge and consent of God. That is why even when things go wrong, God comes to our rescue by giving us his grace and strength which is always reflected in our hope. And, as Peguy reminds us, indeed God’s grace is an incredible force. Hence, it is paramount that we open our hearts to God every day to receive his grace which will fill us with hope and strength to overcome all our failures and obstacles. If we do so we will become a people of exceptional hope surprising God himself!