The Deacon's Bench

That is how Emily Dickinson famously described hope.

I doubt Pope Benedict will take that tack when he releases his next encyclical which, according to news from the Vatican, is on that very subject:

Pope Benedict XVI has completed his second encyclical, a meditation on Christian hope, Vatican sources said.

The text, tentatively titled “Spe Salvi” (“Saved by Hope”), is about 65 pages, sources said Oct. 16. No release date has been set for the document.

The working title comes from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which he wrote: “For in hope we have been saved.” The encyclical is said to explore the Christian understanding of hope, with reference to modern philosophy and the challenges of disbelief.

The pope worked on the encyclical this summer, when he had time to write during his sojourns in northern Italy and at his villa outside Rome. At the same time, he was working on a third encyclical that deals with social themes, Vatican officials said.

The pope published his first encyclical in late 2006. Titled “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”), it called for a deeper understanding of love as a gift from God to be shared in a self-sacrificial way.

The pope spoke about the importance of the virtue of hope in 2005, when he addressed Mexican bishops on their “ad limina” visits to Rome.

“Confronted by today’s changing and complex panorama, the virtue of hope is subject to harsh trials in the community of believers. For this very reason, we must be apostles who are filled with hope and joyful trust in God’s promises,” the pope told the bishops.

From a pastoral standpoint, he added, hope means reminding Christians that God never abandons his people and is alive and active in the world.

“In contemporary society, which shows such visible signs of secularism, we must not give in to despair or a lack of enthusiasm in pastoral projects,” he said.

In introducing a section on hope, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

Then again, if the Holy Spirit is involved, maybe hope truly is the “thing with feathers…that perches in the soul…and sings the tune without the words…and never stops at all.”

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