A few people asked about what the "potentially dangerous strand of piety in Christianity" was that I was referring to in yesterday's commentary. I thought I'd add another poem in a similar vein to make it clearer.
As Christians we long to be with Christ. That said, we are here in Earth until he takes us to be with him. So why not actively seek death? That's the danger. It may seem strange to us, but it is a precipice the edge of which many have danced. S Ignatius of Antioch was one of the first. That American in the news a few months back might be a recent example.
"De Profundis” is the title of today's poem. It literally means "from the depths," and Christina Rossetti is obviously referring to Psalm 130: "Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD." She writes about her longing for the joy and beauty of heaven, and she recognises that it is a reality she must wait for. What is interesting is how she describes this mode of waiting: in hope. In her description we see something that lies behind the virtue of hope. The energy of hope is desire enlivened by Faith.
Hope is one of the theological virtues, which might seem strange. We tend to think of "hope" in the way that greek philosophy did, as a synonym of "wish." This is how Aristotle defined it, as a neutral sort of anticipation fuelled by personal desire: "I sure hope it doesn't rain tomorrow." I sense this at every funeral. When I speak about the "hope of the resurrection," I know that most people interpret this as "we really wish that it will happen!" But that isn't what the Church means by the word, and to think of it as a "wish" is to rob the word of all its power.
Christianity transfigured the idea of hope when it contemplated the reality of Christ's resurrection. It was no longer Aristotle's neutral anticipation, fuelled by personal desire. Enlivened by Faith, Hope becomes a confident fixing of our desire upon the vision of our final goal, which has already been revealed in the resurrection of Christ. For Christians, hope is still animated by desire, but it is enlivened by the revelation of what Christ has accomplished for us. The Catechism puts it this way:
"The virtue of hope responds to the aspiration to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man; it takes up the hopes that inspire men's activities and purifies them so as to order them to the Kingdom of heaven; it keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment; it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity."
By Christina Rossetti
Oh why is heaven built so far, Oh why is earth set so remote?
I cannot reach the nearest star
That hangs afloat.
I would not care to reach the moon,
One round monotonous of change;
Yet even she repeats her tune
Beyond my range.
I never watch the scatter'd fire
Of stars, or sun's far-trailing train,
But all my heart is one desire,
And all in vain:
For I am bound with fleshly bands,
Joy, beauty, lie beyond my scope;
I strain my heart, I stretch my hands,
And catch at hope.