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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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