Lately for me, things just haven’t been right. Maybe you know what that’s like. For me, it’s been several things. On Monday morning a couple of weeks ago, we came into church to find my office and Fr. Ted’s office flooded, along with the welcome center and other parts of the building nearby. Since then, I haven’t been able to work in my office because I’m allergic to mold. So I’ve been working in my room at the rectory, which is fine until I need something from my office that is currently in more disarray than it usually is. I’ve felt somewhat like an itinerant worker with no place to call his own. But I have hope that it will all fall into place later this week when new carpeting is installed and I can breathe in my office again.
And one day a little over a week ago, I was checking my bank account online, only to find that some fictitious person made a large ATM withdrawal at a branch in Arlington Heights that I had never been to, let alone on the day in question. I had to spend a couple of hours on hold to get that sorted out, and the offending transaction was only credited this past Friday, and only then after another hour on hold and many prayers for patience. We’ve all had times like that when things just aren’t right.
But at some point in our lives we find that even this kind of thing is merely a drop in the bucket. At what point did you figure out a lot of things in this world just weren’t right? We could cite many examples: rising violence in our communities, declining respect for authority, terrorism, fear and war, poverty, hunger and homelessness, corruption in politics on every conceivable level, the proliferation of consumerism, greed, and overconsumption, pollution of the environment, and more. All it takes is a few minutes’ worth of the evening news to let us know that somewhere at the core, fundamentally, our world just isn’t right.
God knows it isn’t right. And he’s known for a long time. The whole Old Testament is filled with God’s lament of how things went wrong, and his attempts to bring it back. The fourth Eucharistic Prayer sums it up by saying to God, “Again and again you offered a covenant to man, and through the prophets taught him to hope for salvation.” But, as we well know from our studies of the Scriptures and its proclamation in the Liturgy, again and again humankind turned away from the covenant and away from the God of our salvation. Ever since the fall, things just haven’t been right.
That could certainly get depressing, and maybe it is a little depressing as we come to the end of the calendar year, here at the beginning of our Church year. What enthusiasm could we possible have to begin a new year when things haven’t been right and somehow seem to be getting worse? Well, St. Paul gives us the answer in today’s second reading from his letter to the Romans. Listen to his words again: “Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction, that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
What does he mean by endurance? Pope Benedict sheds some light on that in his current encyclical, Spe Salvi: “All serious and upright human conduct is hope in action. This is so first of all in the sense that we thereby strive to realize our lesser and greater hopes, to complete this or that task which is important for our onward journey, or we work towards a brighter and more humane world so as to open doors into the future” (Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 35). The endurance of which St. Paul speaks today is the endurance that keeps us moving on the journey to find a better life for ourselves in the short term, and a better life for our world in the long term. Every effort of ours can sanctify our world by making the work of God real in our lives and in our world. In a word, we are a people of hope who bring the hope of God’s life to birth through our acts of peace and justice and striving for the greater good of all creation.
But I think we have to confess that it would be very easy to give up on that kind of thing. Certainly at times it seems like our paltry efforts are a mere drop in the great bucket that is the neediness of our world. Maybe it seems like we dig just a little of the debris away, only to have the cave collapse around us. What good is our striving for peace and justice an the greater good in the face of the corruption, evil and sinfulness of our society? What can just one person do anyway? This is a natural, understandable sentiment to which His Holiness responds: “Only the great certitude of hope that my own life, and history in general, despite all failures, are held firm by the indestructible power of Love, and that this gives them their meaning and importance, only this kind of hope can then give the courage to act and to persevere” (Spe Salvi, 35).
Quite frankly, the hope that we Christians have has to be a defiant hope, a hope that is as in-your-face as the one voice of John the Baptist crying out in the desert to prepare the way of the Lord. I mean, how ludicrous was that? But John knew his call and clung to the hope of that call despite the fact that it was just him, dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey. The defiant hope to which we are called is a hope that is in action for justice no matter what, even if it’s just little old me against all that injustice, because ultimately it’s not just us who are at work anyway.
This active, defiant hope to which we are called is summed up by Pope Benedict. He ways: “We can open ourselves and the world and allow God to enter: we can open ourselves to truth, to love, to what is good… We can free our life and the world from the poisons and contaminations that could destroy the present and the future. We can uncover the sources of creation and keep them unsullied, and in this way we can make a right use of creation, which comes to us as a gift, according to its intrinsic requirements and ultimate purpose. This makes sense even if outwardly we achieve nothing or seem powerless in the face of overwhelming hostile forces. So on the one hand, our actions engender hope for us and for others; but at the same time, it is the great hope based upon God’s promises that gives us courage and directs our action in good times and bad” (Spe Salvi, 35, emphasis mine).
I love the song, “On That Holy Mountain” that we sometimes sing here at St. Raphael’s. Today’s first reading reminded me of some of its lyrics:
The poor shall receive from the rich on that holy mountain.
The sick and the lame shall be healed on that holy mountain.
The wicked shall be slain by God’s breath on that holy mountain, on that holy mountain, on that holy mountain of the Lord.
No harm or ruin on that holy mountain.
That sacred day shall be filled with knowledge.
There shall be peace led by all the children on that holy mountain, on that holy mountain, on that holy mountain of the Lord. (“On That Holy Mountain,” Joe Mattingly)
Sometimes the world and our lives can seem quite seriously wrong. But we Christians have the defiant hope that one day, all things will be made right – that peace and justice will be achieved once and for all – on that holy mountain of the Lord.