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(From a 2012 Lent and Easter series of sermons on Catholic Virtues.)
”When Saul arrived in Jerusalem he tried to join the disciples, but they were afraid of him.”
Well, and who wouldn’t blame them? Saul had stood by approvingly while St. Stephen was murdered. Then he embarked on a one-man persecution of the disciples of Jesus, dragging men and women from their homes and throwing them into prison. Then, not content with ridding Jerusalem of these dangerous vermin, he had gotten letters of introduction to the synagogues of Damascus, and off he went to open a new front in his war on Jesus of Nazareth. So who could blame the disciples for not embracing Saul with open arms when he returned to Jerusalem claiming to be a believer? They were afraid of him, and given the circumstances that was to be expected.
On the other hand, didn’t the followers of Jesus have, by that time, ample experience with the unexpected? So much of what Jesus did had been unexpected by them, but anticipated by their own Scriptures. His suffering and death, such a shock to his disciples, had been predicted in several of the psalms and prophets. Likewise his resurrection. And so Jesus, as he appeared to them over forty days, explained things to them, opening their minds to the Scriptures that pertained to him.
You cold almost say that the Christian should expect the unexpected. You can definitely say that the Christian should never despair. If Saul was not hopeless, no one is hopeless; not with the Lord risen and actively intervening in the course of events, such as appearing to his arch-enemy in a flash to claim his conversion and life-long allegiance.
No one is hopeless, not with the Holy Spirit pouring out on all mankind, as the prophet Joel foresaw, opening the hearts of Jew and Gentile alike to faith, repentance, and a new life.
No situation is hopeless, not with the promise of Jesus that he, the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of creation, will return to usher in the new creation. Hope is the hallmark of Christian faith. It is by hope that we look to God as the source of true happiness. It is by hope that we trust in Christ’s promise of eternal live. It is by hope that we confidently expect divine blessing. And so even in situations that the world would write off as hopeless, useless, time to throw in the towel, we continue to hope because of what God has revealed to us through Jesus Christ our Lord, and because the Holy Spirit, Whom He send to us, hass taken up his lively presence in our hearts.
When I consider that ancient pagan philosophers – Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, among hundreds of others – reasoned their way to the conclusion that the universe must have a Source who is self-actualizing, eternal, immaterial, and intelligent …
(Thank you Michael Novak, No One Sees God, P. 195-96)
And when I consider that of all ancient tribes and peoples who had all kind of gods and goddesses only the Jews believed that there was one and only one God, eternal Creator of all things, and that out of His great compassion He had revealed Himself to His human creatures …
And when I consider how Jesus of Nazareth taught and acted in a way that not only summed up all that had been revealed to the Jews but brought it forward to the goal at which it was aimed …
And when I consider how the stories of his resurrection ring so true, with their frank portrayal of his disciples reluctance to believe and stubborn insistence on evidence …
I feel convinced, all over again, that it is true.
And furthermore, when I consider what Peter preached to his fellow Jews after the Holy Spirit had sent him and his fellow apostles out to witness to the world … why, if anyone should have despaired it should have been his listeners, who had put to death the author of life, had denied the Holy and Righteous One and demanded that a murderer be released to them. (Acts 3:14-15) If anyone’s situation could be hopeless, it would have been theirs. And yet even they were not beyond God’s mercy. God made allowance for the fact that they acted out of ignorance. But even if they had acted knowingly, their sins would be wiped away if they repented and converted.
When I consider these things – that God really does exist, that Christianity is true, that God’s infinite compassion encompasses even me – when I consider these things I feel hopeful.
Hope – the theological virtue by which we desire God – the eternal, infinite and merciful – as our true happiness.
Hope – by which we trust in Christ’s promise of eternal life, and in his power to give it to us.
Hope – which anchors our lives in the storms of this life because of its confident expectation of divine blessing, so confident that we can forget ourselves and what we want to squeeze out of the passing life and reach out to God Who is love, and Who gave us companions to love on this brief journey.
Love – another virtue, another sermon.
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