Saturday, May 24, 2014

Explanation of our hope

6th Sunday of Easter Year A:
Today in the letter of St. Peter he instructs us all to be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for our hope.  So that got me thinking, what is our hope?  If I’m going to have to give an explanation of my hope, I better know what that is.  We use the word “hope” quite often in our daily lives: I hope it doesn’t rain, I hope to see you later, let’s hope Notre Dame wins this weekend...  However, Hope is a theological virtue.  It is something quite profound.  Reflecting on hope led me to a writer named Josef Pieper, a renowned philosopher, who once wrote a great little article on Hope.
For us to understand hope, we first have to understand our human situation. Until death, men and women are perched on the knife blade between heaven and hell. 
Pieper explains man’s condition well when he states, “man finds himself, even until the moment of death, in the status viator, in the state of being on the way.”   This state of being on the way is natural for us because we were made from nothing and are progressing toward fulfillment (life with God in the Kingdom).  We do experience life as a journey, after all.  However, Pieper notes that though we are moving forward, we are frighteningly close to the nothingness whence we came: “the proximity to nothingness that is the very nature of created things.”   This rings true to our human experience, have you ever had a brush with death (a car crash for instance)?  Didn’t it feel like you were just moments from nothingness?  Since we come from non-being, we have the ability to return to this non-being: “by the very fact that it [the human person] stems from nothingness, its power can revert to non-being.”  
Yet on the other side, we long for the perfect fulfillment of heaven: “Beatitude is understood primarily as the fulfillment objectively appropriate to our nature… this fulfillment is the Beatific Vision.”   In other words, while we feel close to nothingness, we have this interior longing for a fulfillment beyond this world.
So man seems to be constantly tempted toward nothingness while he strives for fulfillment.  This tension between nothingness and fulfillment is the existential condition of living man.  And, this condition presupposes two possibilities, namely nothingness and fulfillment.  Pieper notes that hope is the virtue necessary for living a human life, torn as it is between being and nothingness.   Hope is the virtue (power) that God gives us to deal with this maddening tug: our mortality on one hand and our striving for heaven on the other.  So, if we are ever feeling torn by the troubles of this world and our longings for the world to come, between mortality and everlasting life, we should ask God for the gift of hope, the virtue for those on the way.
The gospel we have just heard should help us grow in our hope.  Jesus says, I will not leave you orphans, I will come to you.  Christ will not allow the nothingness to win.  He came to lead us to new life.  We are full of hope, because we know that Christ is with us.  Even when life is tough, even in the midst of our most troubling circumstances, Christ has not abandoned us, he is with us.  Need proof?  Look no farther than the Eucharist.  This is Christ’s lasting presence with us.  He is never that far from us.  He is as near as the adoration chapel, the tabernacle here in Church, the altar when we celebrate Mass.
Give an explanation of our hope?  No better explanation than to say that I am full of hope in this life because Christ is never far from me.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The Mass is our Road to Emmaus

3rd Sunday of Easter Year A:
We have heard it said many times, “life is a journey.”  But what does that really mean?  Next, at the end of this month I will be going on a journey.  I’ll be leaving for 2 months to study Canon Law at the Catholic University of America.  This is my 4th summer out of 5.  The journey to DC involves many steps.  I will have to pack all the stuff I need for 2 months into my car.  I will have to stop for gas.  I will have to look up directions.  I will have to stop along the way for the necessities and food.  Each of the little steps along the way are all leading to DC.  But, I can certainly say that I’m not thinking about my destination at every moment along the way.  Also, not every moment is pleasant or amazing.  But, each little step on the way are all possible because I need to get to DC.
Life is a journey.  We are all on our way to Christ.  Every human being on earth will see Christ face to face.  He is the destination of this journey.  Maybe we don’t see that destination every day of our life, and not every day is a day where we see and feel Christ as a part of our lives.  Some days are filled with sadness and pain.  But, the more we can remember the destination, the journey takes on a new meaning.   Even in those parts of the journey that might bring on weariness, or where we might lose hope, if we have Christ before us the journey will always be possible. 
St. Peter, in the second reading, tells us to conduct ourselves with reverence during our sojourning.  I love that word, reverence.  It means to be quiet and respectful, conscious that we live every day in God’s presence. Where do we find this reverence?  St. Peter goes on to say that the resurrection is the source of our faith and hope.  For the apostles, the resurrection was absolutely decisive.  It was that event that changed everything.  We know that the disciples all fled Jesus, denying or betraying him.  But, in the first reading we hear Peter preaching boldly about Christ.  The difference between the scared frightened disciples on Holy Thursday and the fearless proclaimers of the Word afterward was their experience of the Risen Christ.
The same is true for us.  It will be our experience of the Risen Christ that will give us the reverence we need for our sojourning, the faith and hope we have in God.  Now, you might be thinking: great, all I need is an experience of the Risen Jesus and everything will be just fine.
Now, it is certainly the case that Christ has appeared to people over the ages, so I won’t rule that out.  But, there is an experience of the Risen Jesus that is much closer to home.  In fact, we are all doing it right now.  It’s the Mass of course.
On the Road to Emmaus we hear about 2 disciples meeting Jesus.  What I love about this passage is what the gospel tells us and what it doesn’t.  First, we hear that one of the disciples was named Cleopas.  Really?  Cleopas!  Who was Cleopas?  Up till now we have never heard his name in the gospel.  He is not one of the twelve.  We know he was a follower of Jesus, but he was a rather minor character.  The other guy doesn’t even get named.  So the gospel tells us that it was not just the super-famous apostles that see the Risen Lord.  Also, I see that unnamed disciple as standing in for all of us.  We are on this journey, and Jesus still comes to us the same way he did then.  First, in the Holy Scriptures, second in the breaking of the bread.  In these two ways Christ continues to manifest himself to all his disciples.
What makes a person a Christian is an experience of the Risen Christ, and Jesus, in his divine wisdom, has decreed that the one privileged medium by which he is able to manifest himself to the world for the rest of time is the Holy Mass.  Right here we continue to read the scriptures, and Christ continues to break the bread. 

Life is indeed a journey to Christ.  No matter what we face in this life, we will be able to conduct ourselves with reverence because of our faith and hope in the Risen Jesus.  It is precisely through the Mass that we experience the Risen Christ.  No wonder the Mass is such an important part of our journey through life.  Every time we gather here Christ is made known to us through the reading of Scripture and the breaking of the bread.