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Sunday 17 May 2020

A Hope that does Justice

1 Peter 3.13-18; Jn 14.15-21

By Rob Esdaile

Parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, Thames Ditton, Surrey

Context: a congregation of 150 of all ages in a largely wealthy middle-class suburban parish in which many have very pressured lives

Aim: to encourage people to reflect on the gift of hope which Christ gives us and to think about how we can live as hopeful people in our broken world

Taking Hope on Holiday

I’m heading off on holiday straight after mass this weekend, so there are various things that I’m hoping right now. For starters I’m hoping that, just for once, the preacher won’t go on for too long. (You know the experience!) Then I’m hoping I’ve packed everything I need for my fortnight away; hoping the taxi won’t be late so I don’t miss the plane; that the weather will be good; that I’ll meet some lovely folk; that I’ll see some interesting sights; and … (the list could go on).

None of these stated hopes is particularly profound, while some are so trivial as to scarcely qualify as ‘hopes.’ Some things don’t even make it onto the list: yes, of course I hope that my plane won’t crash, but since flying is (somewhat counter-intuitively) the safest form of transport, that hope won’t kick in until we’re half-way down the runway.

Some hopes are so misdirected as to be destructive, the opposite of true hope. For instance, many people invest in the thought that on holiday life will be entirely different and they will be entirely different, too; that some expensive tanning lotion will transform them into bronzed sun gods and goddesses; that they can have consequence-free holiday romances or that they can act in ways in which they wouldn’t dream of acting back at home and get away with it. (I’ve promised the Bishop that I’ll try to behave!) But I also have the unrealistic hope that my flight won’t damage the environment – which is just as false as any pool-side fantasies.

Well-Founded Hope

The question, ‘How big is your hope?’ inevitably becomes also ‘How well-founded is your hope?’ That’s the issue which the First Letter of Peter puts its finger on: ‘Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you all have.’ Peter isn’t talking about trivial travellers’ desires. He’s talking about Big Hope. It’s not even the ‘primal’ hope which makes us get out of bed in the morning, the trust that somehow life has meaning (even if we can’t quite put it into words at 7am as we struggle into consciousness), which he has in mind.

For Peter, as for all the New Testament writers, hope is not a vague aspiration or a dream. Hope has a name, the name of a person, Jesus Christ; the one who ‘innocent though he was, had died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God’; the Crucified One who has himself defeated death and yet remains to walk with us through our own struggles – even and especially through the troubles that may come our way as the cost of our faith. Our hope is in a Somebody, not a something, a Somebody who calls us into a relationship of love and trust.

As Pope Benedict XVI pointed out, for a Christian to believe is to hope; and to hope is to live differently, here and now: ‘The one who has hope … has [already] been granted the gift of new life (Spe Salvi, On Christian Hope, n. 2). We discover that we are desired, loved, always accompanied, never abandoned; and that opens up a new attitude to both the present and the future.

The Urgency of The Here-And-Now

Christian hope doesn’t withdraw us from the world and its struggles; rather, the opposite. Because we have hope, this time, this place, this little Now matters infinitely. All that exists is caught up in the love of Christ. However incompletely, we share in the experience reported in John’s Gospel: ‘On that day you will understand that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you.’

In our secularised culture, which so often seems to struggle to find hope in anything deeper than the next distraction, giving grounds for hope becomes a crucial task for Christian believers. In the face of climate change and ecological destruction, in the face of the manifest injustices that (for instance) mean that the world’s 42 richest people have the same wealth as half the world’s population (with the disparity growing ever-greater) (https://inequality.org/facts/global-inequality ), in the face of the threat posed by the new nuclear arms race, in the face of the hate-filled rhetoric of populist movements that seek to divide us by ethnicity or faith; it is our calling to create signs and to sow seeds of new hope, showing that real change is possible.

That isn’t about us being super-strong or having all the answers. It’s about us being earthed in the knowledge that ‘he – the Spirit of Truth, that other Advocate – is with you, he is in you;’ and living from that truth. It’s about us being people ‘with a clear conscience’, living lives that do justice insofar as we are able; and humbly reflecting on our conduct and its consequences when we feel ethically compromised (like myself in a few hours’ time when I take that plane). It’s about us connecting daily in our prayer with our own hearts, gratefully reflecting on our lives and the presence in them of the Lord, who never gives up on us. It’s about letting people glimpse the joyful hope within us, a hope that might just make them want to ask the reason why.

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