On Spe Salvi, My Companion to the Encyclical, and Why Rush Should Read It

Working on the companion to Pope Benedict’s recent encyclical on hope has been a great experience.  Because we wanted to make it available as soon as possible after the document’s release, Pauline Books gave me a February 22 due date for the manuscript.  At this moment, it looks like I’ll be handing in the completed work a day or two early (a first for me on a major project like this!).

I’m certainly glad to have taken it on.  Here are a few things I’m taking away from the process.

Though I’d heard of Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan, whom Pope Benedict refers to twice in Spe Salvi, I didn’t know much about him and had never read any of his writings.  If the only thing this encyclical accomplishes is to introduce the late Cardinal to a wider Catholic reading audience, that in itself will be significant.  What a treasure of spiritual nourishment his Prayers of Hope is! 

On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll mind if I never read another word penned by Theodor Adorno or Max Horkheimer, two 20th century philosophers who also get some attention is Spe Salvi.  Some worthwhile stuff, I’m sure.  (Certainly the Pope seems to think so.)  But they made my head hurt.

It’s unfortunate that hope is, of the three theological virtues (the other two are, of course, faith and love), the least understood by Christians and the general public today.  I got a clear illustration of that, when I wasn’t looking for it, just today, in the car.  Rush Limbaugh was on the radio, and he brought up the topic of hope, disparaging the concept bitterly.   In fact, he opened with a quotation from Friedrich Nietzsche making fun of hope as “evil.”  (To be honest, I got the sense that Rush didn’t really have any idea who Nietzsche was.  He even pronounced his name wrong.  I could be wrong, but from what I know of Rush, he wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic about quoting Neitchze like he was some kind of sage, if he were more familiar with Nietzsche’s work.)   A man called in to speak up for the importance of hope, saying hope had helped him carry on through decades of difficulty, and Rush insisted that the caller was confused about the meaning of the word, that hope doesn’t do that sort of thing.  It’s a passive thing, Rush said.  When the man questioned Rush’s understanding of hope, Rush’s reponse was (honestly … I remember it because it struck me as, well, vacuous), “Trust me, I’m a great man, I’m a smart man, I know these things.”  Anyway, Benedict’s encyclical could certainly enrich the way many of us understand and live out our Christian faith.

My prayer is that it finds a wide and receptive reading audience.  (In fact, come to think of it, I may send a copy to Rush!)

I’m not sure when my prayer and study companion will become available, but when I find out, I’ll pass along the info here.

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2 Responses to “On Spe Salvi, My Companion to the Encyclical, and Why Rush Should Read It”

  1. Cody Says:

    Even though I’m solidly conservative, I’ve never been a fan of Rush. People like him are an embarrassment to the rest of us.

  2. Barry Michaels Says:

    Yes, Cody, it sometimes seems that an overblown ego is a prerequisite to the job of radio talk show host!

    Thanks for the comment. I noticed on your blog that you have a baby on the way. Congrats and good luck!

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