Year B Ordinary 5
I think that some of you at least are aware of this, but today is the day to mention it. I lived in New England for 9 years, and while there I succumbed to a certain affection not only for Dunkin Donuts but also for the New England Patriot football club. It is my opinion that Tom Brady is the greatest of all time and everyone else is just jealous. Now, I know that in St. Louis that’s dangerous to say because the Rams lost a Superbowl or something like twenty years ago, but there it is. I’ll remind you, too, that Deacon James is from Massachusetts and that your clergy have a united front on this. We’re looking forward to Superbowl victory #6 tonight.
Anyways, I bring this up because I want to mention how, in watching Patriots games over the years, I have lost hope many times that they would win, and then they miraculously – in a non-cheating manner – They’ve managed to win. It’s a sinking feeling to watch your team going down in flames, and it’s crazy, right? It’s just sports! But we live and die by it. When I was a nerdy little kid with giant ’80s glasses and a Cardinals hat that didn’t fit my head right, I would get so angry when the Cardinals wouldn’t win. It would ruin my whole day.
If something as simple as a game can affect us so deeply, consider the much more serious matters that can cause us to lose hope and confidence in the future. I had a period of life when I was clinically depressed, I struggled with it for 10 years or so, but it felt like FOREVER. There would be mornings the alarm clock would ring and I couldn’t think of a single reason to get out of bed. Some chemical in my brain was severely out of balance and for years I struggled with what I can only call a disease. Spiritually, I knew there were physical causes to what was happening to me, but it felt like a chasm had opened up under my feet and I had no future, nothing to look forward to. For some of us, this kind of feeling can occur not from interior causes like depression but from exterior causes, when something goes horribly wrong and around you: your spouse of forty years dies, you lose your job unexpectedly, you are diagnosed with a life-threatening disease…or it could even be a seemingly insignificant event that for some mysterious reason affects you deeply.
As human beings, we don’t know what life is hiding just around the corner. It could be good it could be bad, but the point is we are creatures defined by the fact that we are on a journey. From birth to death we are always in the process of becoming. The philosopher Josef Pieper says that we are, “between the shores of being and nothingness.” What he means is that we are created from nothing and there are two possible outcomes to our lives; we either become more fully ourselves and are embraced into eternal life or we return to nothingness.
There are no guarantees. We are given total freedom to choose, and this very fact provides reason for the despair that all of us have at some point or another felt, because we know that what we seek, eternal life, is not yet attained – and there’s the possibility it might never be – and so if heaven is our goal, the existence of hell is also very real. It has to be, otherwise hope itself is not real. The good news is that we aren’t stuck. We aren’t mediocrities. Our choices do matter.
Take the example of Job, whose life was upended before his eyes, and all that was good was strewn like a smoldering ruin before him. He had experienced the blessings of God, and when those are removed he’s reduced to saying, “My days come to an end without hope.”
When we experience the same feelings, we need precisely what Job says he has lost, which is the virtue of hope. God promises us heaven, but that vision is often obscured by evil. Perhaps it all depends on where we’re looking – Are we looking at the problem, or are we looking to Jesus. He is the source of hope. Notice the sort of activity Our Lord gets up to in his time on earth – he preaches the good news, heals the lame, the blind, and the chronically ill. These miracles of Christ are because he has compassion on us and loves us, but they’re also about hope, showing that he has real power, that he desires the good for us, and that what is experienced in the body by way of physical healing also occurs in the soul.
Hope is one the three great theological virtues, along with faith and love. It is as necessary to our salvation as the other two. The book of Job is about hope. When life is ruining us, how do we respond? Job struggles with it, he loses it, and then he finds his hope again, saying, “Even though God slay me, I will trust in Him.”
This journey we’re on, we cannot anticipate it, but we can practice our ability to remain hopeful in every situation. Pope Benedict XVI wrote an encyclical called, “Spe Salvi, Saved in Hope.” In it, he explains, “Hope doesn’t remove the obstacles, it allows us to see the other side, to uncover the meaning…It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.”
He goes on to give us four practices to not fall into despair:
First, Pray. Don’t focus on the evil that befalls you. Give it to God.
Second, join your pain to love so that it might become redemptive suffering. You can give this suffering to the souls in purgatory and make hope a gift to them, too.
Third, meditate on the Final Judgment. Remind yourself that God is merciful, that he will put all things in order in the end and you will be rewarded if you suffer for your faith.
And finally, turn to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the star of hope, Ave Maris Stella, the light by which we journey. She never lost her hope even as her heart was pierced at the foot of the Cross, she received the fulfillment of hope in her glorious Assumption, and she is now in our midst as our Mother of Hope.
Even before the happy ending at the end of book where everything is restored to him, Job has already made his peace and regained his hope. He has received no answers. His fortune has not yet be restored to him. So what has changed? He has met God, and that changes everything.
O Lord, strengthen our hope, forgive our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.