Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Road to Hope

This article originally appeared in Connect magazine

Over the past few years, we have had a sense that things are not well. Since 2001, we have witnessed wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, not to mention numerous other small conflicts throughout the world. Our economy has suffered as jobs have been lost and homes have been foreclosed on at a record pace. We are deadlocked over important moral and political issues such as abortion and stem cell research with no common ground to help us discuss these issues civilly. We are living with a sense that things are going in the wrong direction, and we are deeply divided over how to set things right. We do not know where to find hope.

Today's readings announce boldly that hope has its center and meaning in God. In the first reading, Peter on the day of Pentecost proclaims to the people of Jerusalem who witnessed Jesus' death on the cross, that his death was not a humiliating defeat. Rather it was the culmination of God's plan of salvation for all people. Jesus laid down His life willingly out of love for us. But even death could not silence Jesus, for He rose from the dead and continues to live among us giving us the hope of everlasting life. Because Jesus lives, we have hope that we also will live with Him forever through faith. That is our first source of real hope. Death, the greatest enemy we face, has already been vanquished.

Peter continues to speak about hope to us in the second reading. Jesus died to deliver us from a futile way of life. That futile way of life was our sinfulness which trapped us in an existence centered only on this material world. The only thing that was real to us was what we could see and feel. It was a life of false hopes and false promises. When our political leaders and economic policy failed us, we did not know where else to turn. Our baptismal faith has taught us that it is God alone, the just judge, who can forgive our sins and render justice for the poor. Our hope, then, finds its center in this just and merciful God who has acted powerfully in history in the person of Jesus Christ. Our second source of hope, then, is that human sinfulness which has created so much misery in history has been overcome.

Finally, the gospel reading presents us with two people who had lost hope. Faced with Jesus' death on the cross and the dismay over Jesus' empty tomb, they decide to leave the community of faith in Jerusalem and head in another direction. As they walk along, they are so caught up in their confusion and despair that they cannot recognize Jesus. Nonetheless their heart burns as He restores their hope by showing how Scripture taught that his death was necessary for the forgiveness of sins and to complete God's plan of salvation. Once they recognize Him, they return to the community of faith in Jerusalem and find their hopes confirmed. Jesus is truly risen! Our third source of hope, then, is that Jesus is still walking among us calming our fears, confirming our faith and anchoring our hope.

We are a people who desperately need to have our hope restored. If we are looking for economic policy to make everything well or political leaders to give us a perfect social order, then we will be sorely disappointed. Only God can both promise and deliver the hope our hearts are burning to receive - the forgiveness of sins, justice, peace and eternal life. On earth, we can only have it in a partial way. There will always be threats to our peace and security. There will always be those seeking to pervert justice for their own ends. Only God can establish true justice and lasting peace in a permanent way.

Does this mean that we throw up our hands and give up? By no means! That is the way people with no hope act. Those without faith generally do not see the point in trying to make the world a good place and decide just to live for themselves and their own pleasures. Or they may try to help but get disillusioned because they cannot see their efforts making any difference. But those who believe in God and have their hope centered in Him live differently. We know that we will be judged by God based on our actions. We see God's face in those who suffer. We know that the poor are our brothers and sisters and refuse to abandon them in their need. However we are not deluded into thinking that any person, any government or any policy can turn our world into a perfect paradise. And so, knowing that we will not achieve a perfect world, we do not give up even when we experience setbacks and disappointments. We press on knowing that God's perfect justice and perfect peace are awaiting us. Though there is only so much we can do - only so much difference we can make - we know that our sincere efforts are rewarded by God and so have eternal value. We strive to make real in our world the mercy and justice revealed in the Savior who walks along the way with us.

We gather each Sunday as people who know very well the fears, misgivings and disappointments of today's world. But, more importantly, we know the hope which our faith in God holds out to us. We feel God's word burning in our hearts. Moreover we see Jesus in the breaking of the bread as we celebrate and share the gift of His Body and Blood. When the songs of praise have ended and we leave our place of worship, we must go into that world and witness to the hope we have found in God. That hope gathers into one community those who are scattered by fear. It gives new strength to those who have been disillusioned by life's injustices. It gives new meaning to those who have been disappointed by the limited effectiveness of governments and politicians. It calls all of us to recognize Jesus, the world's only hope for perfect justice and lasting peace.

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