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What do you find worthy doing, regardless of how it turns out?

I hear a lot of expressions of hope around this time of year – at the Newman Center, at the parish and even in the scriptures these days. Some of them are around the future:

  • “I hope my internship year goes well.”
  • “I hope I can find a job teaching Spanish.”
  • “I hope the weather will be good for the upcoming parish and school picnic.”

Some of them are around the present:

  • “I hope the murder of Osama Bin Laden makes the world safer.”
  • “I hope the Dinner Dance did well.” (It did!)
  • “I hope this relationship continues to deepen.”

And finally, there is that intriguing yet sad line from today’s gospel:

  • “We were hoping he was the one to redeem Israel.”

Hope gets a lot of press, doesn’t it? But I wonder if we often misuse the word. There is a fine line between hoping and wishing. And the difference, at least as I understand it, is all about the engagement level that those verbs convey. Wishing looks for something outside itself as the source of redemption. Hope nurtures and calls forth something within.

Vaclav Havel, the first president of the Czech Republic offered these reflections on hope, about three years before he became the president.

“Hope is a dimension of the soul, an orientation of the spirit. It is not the same thing as joy that things are going well, but rather an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed. Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out…”

The two disciples are blindly fleeing Jerusalem because things did not turn out well, according to their wishes. They end up returning there because Jesus helps them to see a whole way of life that embodies hope. In recognizing Jesus in the breaking of the bread, they understand first the truth that Jesus has liberated them from sin and death. But more importantly, they realize they have to live in such a way that they risk their own bodies being broken and their blood poured out in love of others. To put it another way, they make the connection between Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the connection between the Eucharist and the Cross and finally the resurrection. This is what sets their hearts burning as they race back to Jerusalem – the hope that living for others is worth the doing regardless of how it turns out.

So the story of Emmaus becomes a description of the process of moving from wishing to hoping. In that gradual process of listening and speaking, of praying with and studying scripture, of walking with others on the road, – that daily perspective of taking, blessing, breaking and eating, and the invitation to the Lord to ‘stay with them” – the Jesus we thought we knew vanishes and the risen Christ remains.

This week, the story of the two disciples on the road holds out for us that amazing virtue of hope. I invite you to bring the sentiment of Vaclav Havel to prayer this week. You can ask it in two ways:

“Where do you find your heart burning, on fire with love, able to sacrifice and give?” That experience of a burning heart will point you to the source of hope.

Or: What do you find worthy of doing regardless of how it turns out?

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Is hope a strategy?

Published on 05. Dec, 2010 by in Sunday Homilies

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In 2001, Rick Page, published a book entitled: Hope is Not a Strategy: The Six Keys to Winning the Complex Sale.  Though I don’t know how successful the book was, the phrase itself has worked its way into our American politics during these difficult economic days.  Democrats fling it at the Republicans over health care.  Republicans fling it right back over the deficit.  The point of the metaphor is to get beyond the mere hoping for something to happen, and get busy with the doing of something.  Don’t remain frozen in inactivity, with a vague ‘belief’ that somehow, things might get better.  Anyone can play the victim.  But nothing changes if no one takes responsibility for their life choices.  Get off your duff and DO something.

There is much truth in this perspective.  In our “get it done” Western culture, men and women of action are our models, our real-life action heroes.  There is a time and a place for relying on the truth of the phrase, hope is not a strategy.

But there is a limitation to this perspective as well.  There are times when action is neither possible nor wise, when the circumstances of life demand a posture of waiting, or dependence on forces beyond our own.  For such times as those, there is a strategy for coping which requires great courage and patience, and which will seem counter-intuitive to our take-charge culture.  And that strategy is called hope.

HOPE IS A STRATEGY. It is really is.  Christian hope is not just pie-in-the-sky, wishful naiveté.  It is not a cop-out for those too frightened or too lazy to take matters into their own hands.  The truth is, sometimes life is out of our control, even for the most powerful action hero.  Sometimes the only valid strategy in the face of life’s most difficult moments is to summon the inner strength and faith to cling to right when wrong seems to prevail, to hold to your principles when no one else around seems to care, to believe in God when there is no tangible evidence to support your faith.  In such moments, hope is perhaps the only strategy.

When the rift of unforgiveness deep, and you have offered the olive branch time and time again, but nothing seems to have changed, what do you do to keep pushing forward, to keep trying to bridge the gap?  You reach for hope.  When cancer rears its ugly head and the doctors tell you there is nothing medicine can do for your loved one; what do you do?  You reach for hope.  When loneliness sets in after the break up of your relationship and threatens to cripple your heart; you reach for hope.  When the dark night of the soul brings doubt to your faith and God’s presence seems so far away, you reach for hope.  It is hope in God’s action, or just hope in God Himself that is our best strategy.  We learn to lean upon him and to rely on him.

Like a small green shoot sprouting from the stump of a felled tree, Isaiah reminded Israel to anchor their hope to God’s covenant love, even if there was very little evidence at the time to prove God still cared for them.  His vision must have sounded like a pipe dream to the cynical hearers in his day, since Israel was surrounded by powerful enemies waging war against them.  They thought he was crazy.  But Isaiah was a man of hope.  Here, O Israel is the dream – of natural enemies laying down side by side, of peoples streaming to Jerusalem, not to tear it town, but to worship God there – this is what I hold out to you.  And 700 years later, all it took was a little ‘street preaching’ by a man named John to ignite that hope.

Hope is a powerful strategy, especially when there are no actions or quick remedies, because hope keeps the vision alive, and makes the dream something to be striven for, even when its attainment is out of reach.  Hope stared down a tank in Tiananmen square and stopped the Chinese Army.  Hope endured the water hoses in a Birmingham street, to set a new course for the races in our country.  Hope gave dignity to the dying on the streets of Calcutta.  Hope offered comfort to the lepers on Molokai, until it became a leper itself.  Hope sees beyond the current moment in life, or even beyond an entire lifetime, and clings to the belief that good wins over evil at last, even when there is no visible sign that the forces of evil are weakening.

Reinhold Niebuhr once remarked, “Nothing truly lasting, or truly worth doing, can be accomplished in a single lifetime, and that is the reason we are saved by hope.”  Advent is the season of hope.  It is the season when we are reminded, hope IS a strategy.

This week, don the armor of hope.  Like John the Baptist’s invitation to those whose hearts were hardened – trust that God is not done with you yet.  In your prayer – identify just one area where you need that gospel virtue, and then pray for that gift of hope.  Nurture that hope.  Vision the outcome.  And then wait hopefully for God’s advent in your life and world…

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