Canto II, 129-132.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the future and how the way I conceive of the future affects my understanding of the present; how much of my life I have lived rushing to find a place I hoped was there, instead of acknowledging what is here now.
I do think there are times when it’s ok to rush forward into life rightly hopeful and there are times when we rush into life falsely so. Until recently, false hope has always meant a hope that in hindsight we see had no chance by earthly standards. Now, though, false hope is the belief that holy deliverance will come from a source unrelated to the pain I am fleeing; a hope built on probabilities and events that do not address the root cause of my flight.
The text above is the last full tercet in the second Canto of Dante’s Purgatorio, the second cantica of the Divina Commedia. Most of us are familiar with Inferno, the first cantica, having been assigned it in college English classes or at least heard of it being assigned in college English classes. Purgatorio is less-read, but to me feels more sincerely connected to my experience of this world. I’ve often wondered if this world is actually Purgatory, since it is the place where we come to terms with how our sins have caused us and others pain, and it incorporates moments of both heaven and hell. In the poem, a group of souls have been delivered to the shores of Mount Purgatory. Upon meeting Dante and his guide, one shade is recognized as a earthly friend with the gift of song. He is entreated by Dante and acquiesces, singing a song that all the crowd beholds. Cato interrupts the reverie and chastens them to get about the business of climbing toward Paradise, they disperse and the poet describes their flight which will directly correspond to and cure their sins.
We all know what it feels like to hope against the facts, to hope in events, situations, people. Hope against facts is not false hope. Only when we hope in the things of this world to distract us, to fill a need that hasn’t been met, can we call it false hope. The only thing that satisfies is the balm of grace, the discovery that God has a father’s lap for us to climb into after our long journey rather than a some newspaper in the shack out back.
That God has saved the world and awaits us with open arms, is a hope with reverence, because it is a hope founded in the holy revelation of Christ. I still can’t quite believe that God is at the top of the mountain waiting to welcome me, but I dearly hope He is. There’s a bravery to that kind of hope, because it’s the hope of a finite being on a cosmic scale. Just like the pardoned souls in Purgatorio, whose race up the mountain is charged with the grandeur of God as Hopkins said, so too are our lives constant practices in cosmic hope. They are electrified and intensified by their desire for the infinite. The climbers have such a lofty hope of the warm welcome of God. The rough and steep climb doesn’t give them any indication that He will be there, but they hope He is. They have been told He will be there. Just so with Lent, there are days when I can’t imagine that Easter will ever come, but then, I see a glimpse of the resurrection, of all that I hope to be true, and I keep climbing.