Christian hope rooted in Christ's death, triumph over sin
By Bishop Robert Vasa
Print Edition: 05/09/2008
BEND — Over the past months I have commented both in sermons and in writing on Pope Benedict’s Encyclical on hope. I do continue to return to it for points of reflection and encouragement on a fairly regular basis. I have found in it very rich and even challenging material. Throughout the Easter Season I have reflected on the type of hope which the Apostles and others who lived in the days of Jesus possessed. It is very easy to see them as people who had a rightly placed hope, a hope centered in God and focused on eternal life.
The events of Palm Sunday are perhaps indicative of a truth somewhat different from this perception. Remember that the people saw Jesus healing the sick, curing the blind and the lame, multiplying bread and fish and even changing water into wine. When they perceived that Jesus was coming into Jerusalem to take up His kingly throne, they were ecstatic with hope that now, at last, His kingdom would come, that they would be part of it and there would be health and food and wine in abundance for all. This accounts for the enthusiasm with which Jesus was greeted on that original Palm Sunday.
Their hope for a material kingdom, a hope that all their immediate needs and wants would be gratified was far different from the hope which Jesus came to bring. Their hope was a meager hope, as Pope Benedict describes these rather limited hopes. It was not until the Lord’s resurrection that the light of genuine hope began to shine on the lives of the Apostles. It was a categorically different type of hope. It was an insurmountable, an indomitable hope. It was a hope founded on the fact that Christ had conquered sin and death forever.
In this regard the Holy Father writes about the hope and joy of the saints. They are men and women, who often despite horrendous conditions and even tortures, lived peacefully and joyfully. Concerning their capacity to suffer for the sake of the kingdom of God the Holy Father writes: “Yet this capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon. The saints were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope.” (Spe Salvi, 39)
In contrast, I suspect most of us are rather brimming with meager hopes. Like the people of Jesus’ day we hope for an earthly kingdom, we hope for good health and food and wine in abundance. When we have these things we readily rejoice as did the people of Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. They too were brimming with meager hopes. Yet these hopes do not seem to us to be meager anymore than a teen infatuation seems to that teen to be only “puppy love.” It is only much later when more authentic love is discovered that one looks back and recognizes the meagerness of that previous love. It is only in light of the resurrection that the Apostles were able to look back, and perhaps even laugh, at the meagerness of their previous hope.
“The capacity to suffer depends on the type and extent of the hope we bear within us and build upon.” A person suffering with cancer may have “hope” for a cure to their cancer, they may even be “brimming” with this hope. This is certainly a worthy and even necessary hope. Yet when the diagnosis is that nothing more can be done, then in what do we hope? Many see only the hope of finding some other alternative cure. Lacking that, unless there is a hope which supercedes these other meager hopes, the alternative is to seek to avoid the suffering which appears now to be inevitable. Making the “great journey of human existence” is not only about being brimming with hope but rather it is about being “brimming with great hope,” brimming with a hope infinitely greater than the meager hopes which often compel us in our day to day lives.
My journey this weekend was quite short, fewer than 20 miles each way. Saint Thomas Parish in Redmond was the scene of this weekend’s Confirmation. Seeing their lovely church reminded me that “all serious and upright human conduct is hope in action.” The hope which encouraged and fostered the building of a new larger church more than four years ago is still alive and active. In some ways such buildings are perhaps extravagant. One could argue that all we really need is a large auditorium, a multi-purpose building in which we can have Mass as well as a series of other parochial events. It seems to me that such an arrangement might be tenable as a short term necessity but it bespeaks a kind of hopelessness. After all, it says that having a heart-uplifting sacred space set apart exclusively for the worship of God is either not possible or not necessary.
If we were to take a bit of license with Pope Benedict’s passage it might be re-written as: “Yet this capacity to suffer (to build something beautiful for God) depends on the type and extent of the hope that we bear within us and build upon.” The many beautiful churches of the diocese, built 75 to 100 years ago, are a testimony to the great hope of those who went before us.
As we are heartened by the manifest hope of what our forebears built, the youngsters who endure my questioning and come forward for the anointing of the Holy Spirit need to see our hope in action as well. We have an obligation to try to imitate the saints. They “were able to make the great journey of human existence in the way that Christ had done before them, because they were brimming with great hope.” May we, in our turn, both for our own sakes and for the sake of those who come after us likewise manifest an indomitable hope, a great hope.
Perhaps, in this context of hope, I would be a bit remiss if I did not mention again the diocesan camp/retreat center which we are planning for our rural diocese. If the Holy Father is correct that “all serious and upright human conduct is hope in action” then the varied churches of the diocese are a sign of the hope in action of our ancestors.
The current building projects throughout the diocese are a sign of hope in action within our parishes. The diocesan project is a sign of hope in action for our diocese. The marvelous side effect of moving forward in hope is that doing so actually fosters the hope which it manifests.
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And seek not what you shall eat or what you shall drink: and be not lifted up on high. For all these things do the nations of the world seek. But your Father knoweth that you have need of these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his justice: and all these things shall be added unto you. Lk 12:29-31