Christians Need to Keep Hope Healthy

Oct 22, 2017: 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
Psalms 96:1, 3-5, 7-10
First Thessalonians 1:1-5
Matthew 22:15-21

At the beginning of this Letter to the Christians in Thessalonica, a city in northern Greece (modern-day Macedonia), Paul uses a very interesting and very important phrase. He praises the Thessalonians for their “endurance in hope.” This is not a popular phrase nowadays. Yet, Paul puts it right up there with the “work of faith” and the “labor of love” as a key characteristic of Christian life.

Thessalonica was the second city in Europe where Paul had a chance to preach the Gospel. His preaching was well-received by many, and a local Christian church was founded there. But after a few weeks, some of the local leaders became so jealous of Paul’s success that a violent mob raised a city-wide demonstration against him. Paul’s new converts had to sneak him out of the city at night to bring him to safety. After he left, the Christians there continued to suffer persecution and hardship in the face of the old guard who felt threatened by the new religion.

This is why “endurance” was so important for them: they were constantly being tempted to go back to their old ways, the easier and more comfortable ways.

We are also constantly facing this temptation. Being a faithful Catholic in a society full of anti-Catholic and anti-Christian influences demands non-stop effort and vigilance. What will enable us to keep up our effort? The same thing that enabled the Thessalonians to keep up theirs: hope. The Thessalonians firmly trusted in Christ’s promise that God himself would always walk beside them, guiding and protecting them on their journey to the abundant and eternal life that only Christ can give.

Our great task in life is to endure, to persevere.

We can do that, if we keep our hope healthy.

The Greek word for endurance was hypomeno, and its literal (etymological) meaning was to stay firm under. It could mean the firmness of a foundation that gives stability under a building. Or it could mean the firmness of someone who stands his ground when he is under attack. This kind of firmness is a key characteristic for Christians because every Christian is a missionary.

Only the strength of true Christian hope can give us the joy and fortitude we need to persevere in our mission. Because only the hope that comes from confidence in Christ (not confidence in our intelligence, personality, or good looks) can withstand the type of obstacles and opposition we will encounter if we really try to fulfill this mission.

It’s the same kind of opposition that Christ encountered: extraordinary opposition. In today’s Gospel, Matthew shows how the Pharisees were joining forces with the Herodians to attack Jesus. This was a truly extraordinary alliance. The Pharisees were passionately working for Israel’s political independence. The Herodians, on the other hand, were passionately loyal to the Roman Empire. That two such different groups came together to fight Jesus shows how much the Christian mission threatens the hidden powers of this fallen world. If Christ was a threatening sign of contradiction in this self-centered world, authentic Christians will be too.

This is why we need strong hope to persevere in our mission.

So what can we do to strengthen our hope?

Two things: nourish it and exercise it.

We nourish hope by feeding our minds with knowledge about Christ’s countless victories. In the Bible, in the history of the Church, in the lives of the saints, and in the current experiences of active Catholics and missionaries around the world, we can find case after case in which God’s grace has won a victory over sin, sorrow, suffering, and evil. However, we have to decide to pay attention to those things. If we just go with the flow of popular culture, we will be filling our minds with superficial gossip, tragic news that is gruesome, frightening, and spectacular enough to get good ratings on television, or worse.

It’s never enough just to eat right, we also have to exercise.

We nourish hope by filling our mind with knowledge of Christ’s victories, and we exercise hope by saying yes to God’s invitations. God is always inviting us to something. As the Catechism puts it: God “never ceases to call every man to seek Him, so as to find life and happiness” (#30). God may be inviting some of those here to follow Him as a full-time missionary, priest, religious, or consecrated lay person. God may be inviting others simply to take a little less time for self-indulgence and a little more time for self-giving, in prayer, service to our neighbors, or both. Whatever invitation He is making, when we say yes, we exercise hope, and therefore strengthen our Christian hope — the key to enduring life’s trials joyfully and meaningfully.

In today’s Mass, as Christ proves once again that He is worthy of our trust, let’s promise Him that this week we will take concrete steps to nourish and exercise our Christian hope.

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