Today we talk about the importance of hope. We learn through the liturgies readings today why we have that hope, and the responsibilities that come with that hope. Hope is something that is all the buzz today. Hope elected a president, and everyone is told to remain hopeful in today's troubling times. Yet hopeful in what? Once we have that hope, what are we to do with it? I believe the words of today's liturgies provide us that guidance.
Hear, O Lord, my voice with which I have cried to Thee, be Thou my helper, forsake me not, do not Thou despise me, O God, my Savior. The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? (Introit)
The world frequently sees the spirit of Christian hope as something archaic at best, pointless at worst. To them, the hope of the Christian is simply a hope that would be called by scholars and theologians eschatological, that is, focused on the end. We have hope that God has given better than this world. This is certainly true, and a necessary requirement of our Christian lives.
Yet if we limit our hope to a mere desire of the end times, our hope is not mature. "Our Hope is in the name of the LORD, who hath created the heavens and earth." This is prayed at every mass before the Confetior. If God has created everything, then everything is also subject to its creator. For those who trust in God, then it follows we can invoke His name in our defense and help. That is our hope in the everyday lives of our faith. When we call upon the Lord, He will answer us in doing what we need done.
We also hope that the Lord will give us what He has promised, here now on earth. The collect states that these gifts "pass all understanding" and "exceed all that we can desire." While this speaks of a heavenly desire, we cannot forget the reality of this desire today. When one experiences the liberation from sin, one finds it is possible to live a life they never thought possible before. When the chains of lust are broken from souls, they see themselves and each other in an entirely new light. When sinners and outcasts wished Christ to heal them, they had confidence in hope that He could do what they asked to change their lives irrevocably. They could not fathom what life was like being healed, but they certainly knew it would be better. As we work our way towards the readings today, we see a shift. While we talked about the reasons for our hope, the Scriptures today tell us how to conduct ourselves worthily of this hope.
I Peter 3:8-15
Dearly beloved: Be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest, humble: Not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing: for unto this are you called, that you may inherit a blessing. For he that will love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him decline from evil and do good: Let him seek after peace and pursue it: Because the eyes of the Lord are upon the just, and his ears unto their prayers but the countenance of the Lord upon them that do evil things. And who is he that can hurt you, if you be zealous of good? But if also you suffer any thing for justice' sake, blessed are ye. And be not afraid of their fear: and be not troubled. But sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you.
The final verse here has been used many times as the verse that contains the discipline of apologetics in a nutshell: to give a reason for the hope that is within us. Every last one of us is called to be an apologist of Jesus Christ. This is not optional. Yet this defense of our hope is more than mere words. Sometimes, words are very important. Yet always important are our actions. Now that we have been freed from the slavery of sin, we must conduct ourselves accordingly.
The world has enough of people who claim freedom from sin, and yet still live in sin. Have we not seen this time and time again? I am sure each of us knows one who claims the mantle of Christ boldly, yet there is no evidence of that conduct. What good is hope in Christ Jesus if it cannot actually change the individual? In the political landscape today, there were those who placed great hope in our President to accomplish this or that. He was hailed as "sort of God", one reporter even going so far as to say he was "the word made flesh." Ask them now, and many of them are despondent. This is not to comment on the substance of his agenda. I am simply wishing to point out that a hope that cannot lead to true change is a worthless hope. Even the sinner understands, deep down, there is evil in this world. They hope for liberation from it, yet they do not know what to hope in. Only through a proper Christian example can they see the evidence for true hope.
When the Christian acts the way St. Peter exhorts us to, we tell the world "we are proof that liberation from the slavery of evil is not only possible, but a reality." Our actions prove that the snares of this world do not enthrall us. We truly cast off the old self in this true hope. Only when exhibiting these virtues can we take the counsel of St. Peter and "be not afraid of their fear: and be not troubled." This confidence is the strongest of all apologetical tools. The confidence of the martyrs astounded Rome, and their inspiration led many to Christ. We find in the Gospel another way in which our hope is manifested.
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: "Unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to them of old: 'Thou shalt not kill.' And whosoever shall kill, shall be in danger of the judgment. But I say to you, that whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be in danger of the council. And whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee; Leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift."
Christ continues the words from the epistle by telling us unless our dikaiosune, our righteousness, exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, we will not enter heaven. I think at times there is a common misconception about the scribes and Pharisees. We typically think of them as outwardly righteous, and in reality corrupted by pride. While that is certainly true for some, the Pharisees on the whole were known for their zeal, their piety, and their moral righteousness. St. Paul was a Pharisee, as was the great Jew Gamaliel. One could even say that Christ, in teaching the resurrection of the body, found far more in common with the Pharisaic school. Yet as Christians, we are called to be even greater than that.
In this passage Christ elevates us beyond the law. It is not enough to not kill our brother. Instead, Christ tells us to not even have opposition between us and our brother. So much so, that if we have a serious dispute between a brother, we should not even be participating in the sacrifice, which us Catholics understand as the Eucharist. The Church draws so much of her strength from the unity which Christ provides, being that the Church is Christ's body.
This unity in the body is a strong source of hope for the world. The sinner believes he is truly alone. For those in serious sin, many times they believe they have offended God so much, they cannot turn even to Him, much less a brother. To see the brotherhood acting in accord and harmony is appealing. When we act as one with our brother, we not only promote peace, we make a statement to those feeling they are alone. We tell them that in Christ, you find the you are not alone. While Christianity doesn't make it any easier (indeed, Christ calls us to a standard unheard of within the world), they learn that through the assistance and ministry of the Church, they truly can live up to the calling Christ challenges us with. For if we are truly alone, if we are not united, there is no hope for overcoming even the slightest of wrongs, to say nothing of grave evil at work within society. Yet we know for certain that our hope is not in vain.
Let us pray to the Lord always that we may possess this hope, and that this hope strengthens not only the Church, but the entire world.