“There is no love without hope, no hope without love, and neither hope nor love without faith.”—St. Augustine, Enchiridion, 8
Father Walter Ciszek, S.J., spent twenty-three tortuous years in various prisons under the old Soviet regime in Russia. After a year of intense interrogation, he signed a false affidavit admitting to crimes that he had not committed. The weakness in himself that this act revealed, both to himself and to his Soviet interrogator, precipitated a real crisis in Ciszek’s soul. Cast into darkness and eventually into real despair, he experienced what he flatly calls a conversion when he finally called upon God’s grace and found the strength to give up all the calculations he had entered into with his captors to avoid further torture and death, and to cast himself entirely upon God.
That essential act of faith, that final surrender of every pretension to self-sufficiency, is critical to sanctity, to hope, and to love in full. The book of Hebrews defines faith as the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen,” (11:1) which means, in short, that faith is the power to see in the dark. Things always seem darkest when our own resources have failed entirely and we have no place to go but the throne of grace.
While St. Paul says of the theological virtues that the greatest is love—and, of course, it is on the basis of love that we will be judged—the full measure of love can only be given when we make the total gift of self to God that only the ultimate test of faith makes possible. As Ciszek realized, it is when we find love cold and hope failing that faith is pushed to the limit. It is only when that limit is actually crossed, and we finally fall into the arms of God, that we find all we had hoped for and sought in love.
Is there some area of your life right now that you have been reluctant to place in God’s hands, determined to handle yourself, in your own way? What might you do this week to place your life—and the lives of your family—more fully into the hands of God?