Greatest Virtue? (Sorry, St. Paul)

My apologies to the learned St. Paul but Love is not number on the top three list; Faith Hope and Love. The greatest is not Love. There is no Love without Hope. Faith cannot be uncovered and discovered without Hope living within us first. With Hope on top then our lives are rooted in and through Faith and then freely expressed in and through Love. Please repeat that sentence.
Hope is about an unknown but believing future. Hope is also about our tough unchangeable pasts. Sounds like an oxymoron but that’s us Christians for you. Hope can only be a promising future when we fondly remember and beautifully cherish the memories of goodness and wonders of our lives. That’s the easy part. And, to be the heathliest, it also includes the weakest part of us – sin whether commissioned or omissions. With God’s help, it means forgiving the past. Never forgotten but forgiven.

St. Paul joins the dictionary in getting it wrong with “expectations” and “certain things to happen” as though the second greatest virtue is limited only to our future and not our past. 

Love is the fulfillment of both Faith and Hope. Just think about this, if you will. If you’re making a casserole and you want the result to be a scrumptious meal full of Love then make sure you add two cups of Hope to your crushed ground beef (or to your pasta if a vegetarian). Preheat the oven (that’s called our birth.) Then sit back and bake at 350 for 45 minutes and then see what happens. After cooking, sprinkle the top generously with French Fried Onions representing Faith. There’s your Love on the kitchen table.

There’s a quaint, quiet town outside busy, metropolitan Milwaukee that illustrates “hope” as defined by the dictionary.  Driving through the main street, I’m reminded of a movie set. Everything you see is wonderful, neat and pretty, and great until you park the car and peek behind those stores’ facade. Behind that facade is 2 x 4’s propping up the fake front.  It seems simply shallow. (Cedarburg.) “Putting your best foot forward” may be good advice for a job interview but planting both feet solidly on the ground are the three virtues gifted to us by our three friends (Father, Son, and Spirit).

Sorry virtues Faith and Love, please set aside as we show ourselves that the power of Hope can heal any of the backwards of our lives in order to move our lives humbly and faithfully forward.

When we seek closure or some kind of healing that can never be fully granted because the past is gone, we easily begin to use the word “wish.” “I wish that that memory could fade away from me,” or “I wish healing about that incident or episode that I regret” or “I wish that stupid death didn’t happen.”  “Wishes” are from Walt Disney, “Hope” is the grace from God.

Can’t Hope be broadened without getting the other two virtues upset? Can’t the power of Hope in all of its full maturity and Godly grace and power offer us healing or a softening to those “things” of the past? 

Those mistakes of the past, whatever they may be – sinful or just stupid, have a cute way of haunting and persisting in our minds and behaviors.  Looking blindly toward an unknown future, like that quaint town are feeble attempts to bypass parts of our lives as though they never happened. Forgiven but not forgotten.

Try this example.  If you dent your left driver’s bumper then guess where your next accident will occur. (No one seems to guess it correctly.) Your next accident will be on your left driver’s bumper. Go figure.

The longer we live the more backdrops we have to hold up. Each of our “storefronts” may look clean and neat to those who drive by us but unless we hope our ways toward our backs then we are simply a scene set on a studio lot in a cheap make- believe-movie.

In my healthcare experience, the last ounce of us to release is what? Most people say, “Will” but they’re wrong. It’s the driver of our car. It’s the first of those three marvelous, mysterious virtues that roam around our hearts, souls, and minds every single day.

Driving along, Hope says “Thank you Faith and Love for all you do but you’re sitting in the back seat. Let me do the driving…I know where we’ve been and I know where we’re going.”

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). Six books on the Catholic church and U.S. culture are available on
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