Theme: Messengers of Hope to the World
Through faith in God, we are freed by hope to trust in God's salvific plan for the world. Heis ways are not our ways. As the servants of God, filled with hope, we are able to confront the contradictions and evils of our age. We are to be prophets of hope to the world, leading others to cross the threshold of hope to the Kingdom of God.
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4: The prophet is freed from despair by a vision from God. Indeed, God is working in the world and caring for His people. With his interior spirit restored by this vision from God, Habakkuk can once again be a prophet of hope to God's suffering people.
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9: Through prayer and praise our hearts remain attentive to the voice of God. "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."
2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14: Paul reminds Timothy to rekindle the flame of the Spirit. Paul leads Timothy across the threshold of hope by recalling the ministry that Timothy received through the laying on of hands.
Luke 17:5-10: With even a small amount of faith, we will be able to do the seemingly impossible. The hope which flows from faith, gives us the reassurance we need to be obedient servants, helping to bring forth the Kingdom of God.
Where is hope to be found? John Paul II raises the same question in his book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope: "How could God have permitted so many wars, concentration camps, the Holocaust?"1 Where is the love, the compassion, and the mercy of God? Why does God seem hidden and silent? Every person who cares deeply for what is good anguishes over the evil in the world. So too, it is very human to wonder why and how God acts, or seems to act, in concrete places and circumstances. In fact, the Holy Father says, "The history of salvation is also the history of man's continual judgment of God."2
In our first reading today, we are privy to the innermost thoughts and feelings of the prophet Habakkuk. Little is known about this 7th century B.C. prophet. As he sits atop a watch tower, scanning the horizon for some sign of God's presence, gazing at the moral and political landscape, he is in anguish to the point of despair. Instead of the Lord's glory, all he sees is the power of foreign kingdoms ravaging the land through oppression and all manner of idolatry. The future looks dark and bleak. God seems absent. Habakkuk's hope is all but extinguished.
From the depth of his soul the prophet cries out loud to God: "Where are you?" "Violence, violence, violence!" is all he sees. Is God deaf to his fervent prayer, incapable or unwilling to challenge the powerful kingdoms holding the people in bondage? No. In the midst of his spiritual anguish, the prophet receives a salvific vision of hope.. God has not abandoned His people. The Lion of Judah is not powerless. By crossing the threshold of hope, Habakkuk is freed from his lingering doubts and despair. Emboldened by this vision, Habakkuk regains his courage to face the powers arrayed against God's people, becoming himself a beacon of hope to the people.
In Paul's Second Letter to Timothy, we find another servant of God–Timothy–who is tired and worn. Paul, in his prison cell awaiting execution, writes to encourage Timothy to not become overwhelmed by discouragement. Paul reminds Timothy that he must fan into flame the gift of the Spirit he has received. The Holy Spirit will rekindle his strength and hope in the Lord. "It is the Holy Spirit who brings 'rest' and 'ease' in the midst of the heat of the day, in the midst of anxieties, struggles and perils of every age. He brings 'consolation,' when the human heart grieves and is tempted to despair."3 As a man of profound hope in the risen Christ, Paul leads Timothy anew across the threshold of hope.
In the Gospel, the Apostles ask for an increase of faith. Jesus uses the tiny mustard seed as a symbol of what can be accomplished by those who truly believe, with even a little bit of genuine faith. Faith gives us the hope that, with God, even the impossible can be done, like telling the sycamore to be uprooted and be transplanted to the sea. Luke combines both the power of faith–which bestows hope to the believer–and the power of faith of the devoted servant, doing what has been commanded.
In each of our readings, there is a radical change from doubt to hope. This is possible when God gives a glimpse of insight, a new vision of how He acts in human history. Hope allows us to see through the many faces and disguises of evil to the God who walks before and with us at the same time. When we cross the threshold of hope with all of its tensions, we are freed to challenge the world as beacons of hope and as servants of the Kingdom of God.
Every age confronts and mocks faith in God. Because we are a hopeful people, we are open to ridicule by those who claim that we are unrealistic or too idealistic to effectively deal with the problems of the world. On the contrary, Christians are people grounded in the truest reality: we believe in something beyond our own abilities, namely, the infinite power of God. In baptism we pass through darkness and death, and we rise with Christ to a new life. "But it is this very hope and it alone which makes a person free."4
We reinforce our capacity to hope every time we pray the words given to us by Jesus, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be Done.
In a little book entitled Hope Begins Where Hope Begins, author Michael Downey writes: "In every age, in each culture, Christians have been called upon to give an account of why they hope."5 "Without [hope] we do not live. Indeed, wherever there is life there is hope. ... It looks to a future that can only come as gift. It begins where it begins. And hope, the deep-down kind has no end."6
This is why the Church lifts up the courageous witness of the early Christian martyrs and the saints throughout the ages who have stood out as beacons of hope to the world. In our own age we have been able to look to Mother Teresa of Calcutta as a woman who mirrored what it means to be a beacon of hope and a servant doing her duty for God and neighbor. She understood the utter importance of bringing hope to those who had lost all hope, even the last shred of their human dignity. Looking at the great social ills in the world with her untiring hope and trust in God, she simply said: "Do not worry about why problems exist in the world–just respond to people's needs."7
Another great beacon of hope, John Paul II, has spoken prophetically about the culture of death that is all around us. But in the face of all the sinister aspects of our age, he calls us to be people igniting the world with the flame of hope. In his encyclical letter The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), the Holy Father challenges us to do our duty as the people of God to promote the Gospel of life when he says:
To all the members of the Church, the people of life and for life, I make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an authentic civilization of truth and love.8
But sadly, in the minds and hearts of many Christians, their vision of the future has become distorted. The vision of God and of God's hope for the world has been replaced by a ruthless pragmatism toward human life. They ascribe no value to a life that is inconvenient for them or "unproductive" in economic terms. They succumb to the secular mentality that has given rise to horrific acts of violence against humanity in the twentieth century: world wars, ethnic cleansing, abortion, euthanasia, and the displacement of whole populations of people.
As the Holy Father reminds us, we must be beacons of hope. "Against the pessimism and selfishness which cast a shadow over the world, the Church stands for life: in each human life, she sees the splendor of that 'Yes,' that 'Amen' which is Christ himself ... to make the Church's 'Yes' to human life concrete and efficacious."9
As people who believe and hope in God, "we cast our lives and our deaths on the side of God, trusting in God's ultimate victory. We call for God's holy realm to be fulfilled on earth, no matter how bleak and chaotic and painful the situation may be at the present moment."10
Therefore, the hope for the desolate is grounded in God. We are never God forsaken. Joy and peace which pass all understanding come from this identity as God's beloved. And with joy and peace the strength to endure–to endure because the God who claims and sustains in the present travail is the God of the future. ... With the assurance of God's abiding presence and love we can live the present and anticipate a future where God continues to speak our name and call us to God's passion.11
One of the Holy Father's favorite theologians, Karl Rahner, writing about the essence of the Christian vocation today, observed:
I find that being a Christian is the simplest task, the utterly simple and therefore heavy-light burden, as the Gospel calls it. At the end we are left with mystery, but it is the mystery in Jesus. One can despair or become impatient, tired, skeptical, and bitter because time goes by the mystery still does not dawn as happiness, but it is better to wait in patience for the day that knows no end.12
Each of us, like Habakkuk and Timothy, has a choice. We can either stew and wax eloquently about what's wrong with the world, or we can join with God's Spirit to bring about the Kingdom inaugurated by Christ, the Servant of God. Hope is a gift of the Spirit. We too like Timothy must beg the Lord to enkindle the fire of the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. When we are weak or discouraged, we must reclaim the vision of God that has been planted in our hearts.
As servants of hope, without fanfare, we do our duty in the Lord by defending the weakest in our midst: the defenseless life in the womb, those suffering from life-threatening illness, from crisis pregnancies, the alienated, the imprisoned, and those who have lost all hope for a better world. To be a people proclaiming the sanctity of life is a message of hope and at the heart of our Christian duty as servants of God and neighbor.
Filled with hope, we are able to confront the contradictions and evils of our age. With tiny seeds of faith, we are more than conquerors, because we are united with God who loves us and who died to set us free. We are bearing the light of hope to those in darkness, helping them to cross the threshold of hope to help bring forth the Kingdom of God.
- John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope. Vittorio Messori (Ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994, p. 61
- John Paul II, On the Holy Spirit in the Life of the Church and the World (Dominum et Vivificantem), No. 67.
- Rahner, Karl. Foundations of Christian Faith.. New York: Seebury Press, 1978, p. 405.
- Downey, Michael. Hope Begins Where Hope Begins. New York: Orbis Books, 1998, p. 11.
- Ibid. p. 16.
- Mother Teresa. A Simple Path. New York: Ballatine Books, 1995, p. 114.
- John Paul II, The Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae), No. 6.
- John Paul II, The Vocation and the Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World (Christifidelis Laict), No. 38.
- Emeth, Elain V., "Lessons from the Holocaust," Weavings 13:2 (1998) 20.
- Smith, Luther E., "Earth Has No Sorrow that Heaven Cannot Heal," Weavings 8:5 (1993) 14-15
- Rahner, karl, "Why am I a Christian," in The Catholic Faith: A Reader. Cunninhgam, Lawrence, Ed. New York: Paulist Press, 1988, p. 237