Sunday, November 30, 2008

Joyful Hope

1. Those who had known Jesus when He walked on the earth, those who had ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead felt the desire to see Jesus once more, this time in Glory and Power. So in the early days of the Church, the whole Christian community strained each day looking forward to the return of Jesus, begging Jesus to come back.
2. Their feelings echoed the words of the prophets, like Isaiah, who longed for the Lord to come down and rescue His people from their sins. They looked at their lives and could see the same mistakes over and over again. Although Chosen by God and constantly shown His care and mercy, they nevertheless sinned and imitated the pagan nations around them. To break out of the cycle of sin, they wanted God to intervene.
3. Through the Prophets, God taught them to hope for His coming and to prepare themselves to meet Him. Still, most of the people failed to recognize Jesus when He did arrive, in spite of the many signs which He performed for their benefit. We do not have to wait for Jesus’ first coming. But like the earliest Christians, we are awaiting His return in Glory. Jesus tells us in the Gospel to be watchful and alert, ready for His coming. But what should be our attitude, and what should we be doing, if anything, to prepare ourselves for Jesus’ glorious return.?
4. As with any question, there are various opinions on how to answer it. And not all answers are equally correct. But as I learned from Father Gallagher in the seminary, even studying erroneous opinions is useful for discovering the truth. One of these errors is to think that we must do most of the work. After all, Saint Paul says in his letter to the Phillipians work out your salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12).
5. This erroneous opinion more or less states that God has given us everything we need, and with it we can lift ourselves up to heaven. And many people suffer from a form of this error, even if not completely. For example, many are tempted to put off going to confession until they have conquered their own sins. But if we were able to save ourselves, why would Jesus have come in the first place?
6. Instead, our salvation is a gift of grace given to us by the Good God. He looked with pity on us and saved us because we could not do it ourselves. Yes, God gives us everything we need, but He does not leave us on our own. We do not pull ourselves up to heaven. Rather, as Hosea the prophet said: I drew them with human cords, with bands of love; I fostered them like one who raises an infant to his cheeks (Hosea 11:4). It is the Lord who raises us up to the heavens. It is His love that has given us Salvation, the Redemption of our Souls.
7. On the other extreme, there are those whose idea of preparation for the return of the Lord borders on fervent complacency. This kind of doing nothing is not the result of laziness, but rather the conviction that nothing we could do matters anyway, that human beings are so ruined by the Original Sin of Adam and Eve that it is impossible to do good. This particular error is very popular, and it is used to convince many Catholics to abandon their faith, although thanks God few people actually act as if it is true.
8. Those who propose that human beings are totally depraved it will sometimes quote today’s first reading all our good deeds are like polluted rags (Isaiah 64:6b) Taken by itself, one might begin to think that good deeds are useless. But the author is not speaking of actual good deeds, but on the so-called good deeds of unclean people. Although Isaiah has a longing that God would find His people doing right when He comes down to the earth, the prophet realizes that they are in fact sinners. They were like the unclean, that is, those who do not know God and do not know what pleases Him. The so called “good deeds” they valued were in fact useless before the Lord. They were selfish in their pursuit of worldly goods. They were unconcerned about the plight of those with insufficient work to support their families. They ignored the cries of abandoned or rejected children. They did not care for the widows. The virtues of the day were the piling up of wealth, the experience of pleasures, and the desire for power and control.
9. It was not because people were incapable of good deeds that the prophet wrote this, it was because they could do good, but only if they turned to God.
10. The prophet does not leave us without hope. He concludes his admission of the sinfulness of his own people by recalling that God is Father, that we are His creatures. He is the potter and we are the clay (see Isaiah 64:7). If God has made us for Himself, surely He will bestow mercy on those whom He has chosen.
11. And so it is. Jesus the Son has become the means of God’s mercy for us, if only we would cling to Him. We are the clay in His hands, and He has formed us to be the beloved children of the Father. The words of Hosea describing God as one who lifts an infant up, are not just words describing the blessings that God has bestowed on us in this life, they describe what the Lord intends to do with each one of us- to lift us up to spend an eternity with Him.
12. My brothers and sisters, we cannot save ourselves, only Jesus is our Savior. Yet we cannot stand by idly, wrongly believing that our actions are meaningless in our relationship with the Living God. If we are His people, if we are His family, then we must live as His true children. Even if we must dig down and offer ourselves in the process. We must be watchful, alert, but not afraid. Rather we must wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ (priest's prayer after the Our Father in the Mass).

No comments: