Where Does Our Hope Lie?
"....and God will wipe away every tear from their eye"
Now more than ever the world is in dire needs of hope. Yet now more than ever hope seems impossibly elusive. In the aftermath of the tragedy that enveloped the Boston Marathon, a holiday which celebrates sport and the great city of Boston in equal measure, many are asking if we will ever experience a world that is free from the horror of violence, cloaked in anonymity or otherwise, one in which young children are oftentimes placed in the cross-hairs by the prevailing hate and division.
The early believers and the Apostles themselves faced the same type of intimidation, scare tactics and brutal violence in their time as well, proving yet again that the misguided pablum of "might making right" has long been the calling card of the prejudiced, the feeble-minded and those driven by the insatiable thirst for power and influence. Through it all however - then, now and undoubtedly in the future, the human spirit manages to find a way to muddle through, perhaps taking a page from Rudyard Kipling, who once so famously said "This I know about life....it goes on."
As we enter the 4th Week of Easter, we start to see the tide of public opinion slowly turning against the Sanhedrin in favor of Peter and the other Apostles who have stepped up to Jesus' challenge of tending to His sheep, as Jesus had called Peter to do 3 separate times during last week's readings. In passages taken from both the Acts of the Apostles and the Book of Revelation, our 1st and 2nd Readings respectively, we see a lockstep uptick in both the Apostles' battle and God's battle with the forces of evil. But how does each of these respective stories culminate?
For Peter it can only end one way, as he would go on to suffer the same fate as his friend Jesus. With God, it can and will only end in one way as well - supreme victory over evil. But this is only due to Jesus making the ultimate sacrifice. The works of Peter and Paul should not be overlooked either, not to mention St. Stephen, who called out for God to forgive his persecutors as they were in the very act of stoning him.
Could those affected directly by the acts of the Boston Marathon Bombers be as forgiving to those who perpetrated their crime on innocent friends and family members as St. Stephen was to those who took his life? That kind of faith, mercy and forgiveness isn't cultivated overnight. Deep contemplative prayer is the gateway to such virtue.
Elisabeth Leseur, whose cause for canonization is currently underway, said this about spiritual prayer relative to knowledge and intellect:
The life of reason and the spiritual life do not have the same methods and are not nourished by the same food. The soul lives by prayer, just as the intellect absorbs intellectual nourishment and the body material substances; the soul dies when it lacks divine warmth, just as the body dies for lack of food or the mind for lack of education. Someone has said so aptly that prayer is the soul's breathing in God. Never lose this breath by abandoning interior prayer, which is called grace in us and which gives us life.
Like the many brave Bostonians, visiting marathoners and those responders and police officers who quickly jumped in to help the victims of the bombings earlier this week, Peter challenges his disciples to stand tall in the face of oppression in this inspiring verse (1 Peter 3:13-15):
"Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope."
Peter seems resigned to a certainly grim yet undeniable fact:
Evil cannot and will not be conquered in this world.
The other Apostles went on to learn that hard lesson, those who came after them and before us learned that, and those who are to come long after us will learn that as well. As long as man walks the Earth, and as long as there are people to exploit, mailboxes and waste baskets to equip with deadly explosives, bank accounts to loot and power to usurp, evil will have its way in the ever-evolving yet seemingly de-evolving finite world. Yet Peter remained fearless and hopeful. And he knew why. And he implored his disciples to remain fearless and hopeful. And to understand why. And to proclaim their source of such great hope to those who lack it, both in word and deed.
Hope in a hopeless world? Absolutely.
For just as Peter "lost" his battle and his life in this the finite world, God goes on to win the eternal battle, the only battle that truly matters.
While we do in fact know and believe that all of our trials and tribulations of this life are under God's care and that all things work for the good of those who love Jesus, we do at times suffer through bouts of "faith deficit". We grow weary of heart and poor in spirit by the never-ending onslaught of violence, not to mention our own hate for those who commit such horrific crimes as those experienced in Boston. Replacing the darkness of this age with the light of Jesus, a key process in allowing events such as these to draw us closer to God, takes time and an abundance of faith.
Questioning why things happen is OK in as much as it does open the door to ongoing dialogue with God, but one should not get too bogged down in doing so. For as much as this ongoing introspection is bound to draw us closer to God in prayer, assuming it does in fact transpire in the form of prayer and not bitterness and slf-pity, we must remember Isaiah's words as they relate to our attempts to understand God's complex plans for us:
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways says the Lord. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts." - Isaiah 55:8-9
The fatal human tendency to believe that we fully grasp the big picture in a way that places us on the same plane as God and His all-knowing plan can greatly contribute to our faithful undoing. But if we are able to heed Isaiah's words and allow our faith to be the source of our hope, we will finally begin to move forward as true disciples of God, free of the burdens of worry and doubt while offering hope though faith to our brothers and sisters.
Our journey on this Earth was never meant to be an easy one. And it is true now more than ever that those of us who fish alone fish in vain. We must draw upon our ever-evolving faith to perservere.
......If we persevere, we shall also reign with him (2 TM 2:12)