PERSEVERE IN HOPE


SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ HEB 6:10-20; PS 111:1-2, 4-5, 9, 10; MK 2:23-28  ]

It has never been easy being a Christian.  This is not surprising or unexpected.  Jesus in the gospel already forewarned us about what it takes to be His disciples.   “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”  (Mk 8:34f)  Indeed, from the beginning of the early Church until this day, Christians have always come under some form of persecution, sometimes involving physical suffering but most of the time under emotional and psychological discrimination.

Understandably, we can become discouraged in doing good and trying to live the gospel life when we find our good intentions and good efforts unappreciated.  Some of us try to live a gracious and caring life in our family, but we are often taken for granted.  Instead of family members showing appreciation for the sacrifices we make, they cast doubts on our good intentions.  This is also true in our service at Church or even at work.  There are people who are jealous of us and often seek to discredit us.   They try to destroy the work we do because they feel threatened by our popularity.  Indeed, when we see so much politics in church ministries or NGOs, we get rather tired and disillusioned because we feel that the time, effort and sacrifices we put in are not recognized, much less appreciated.

Therefore, the normal reaction is to resign and just live quietly on our own.  We do not like to fight with the rest of the community.  We are discouraged and disheartened.  If the Church and our family do not appreciate our services, why should we continue to give what is holy to the dogs?  Did not the Lord say, “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.”  (Mt 7:6)  But these words were spoken in the context of those who profane the holiness of God, for example, receiving the Eucharist when we are in serious sin.  Rather, St Paul urges us, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21)

How then can we continue to persevere in doing good and remain faithful to our beliefs if not for the hope that we have?  Without hope, we cannot persevere in our mission and conviction.  That is why hope is the virtue that holds up faith and love.  It is our hope for a better future, the realization of our dreams that keep us working, never faltering in our zeal even in the face of suffering.  This is what keeps leaders and their organization members working in spite of opposition, ridicule and threats.  They believe in building a greater future for their families and their country or for their organization.  When we have a dream, a vision, it will give us hope that one day this dream will be realized.

But our hope is not just about this life and about this world.  Our hope is in the fullness of life.  “Our one desire is that every one of you should go on showing the same earnestness to the end, to the perfect fulfilment of our hopes.”  Our final hope is in Christ, sharing in the rewards of eternal life with Him.  This was what St Peter wrote to the early Christians under persecution.  “By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”  (1 Pt 1:3-5) St Paul says, “Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.” (1 Cor 9:25)

Hope means that we need to have patience in waiting for the dream to be realized.  We should not get discouraged when we find that we are still far from our dreams.  Rather, that should challenge and motivate us further in seeking to make the dream a reality.  Instead of succumbing to pessimistic voices, we must be courageous, hopeful and patient, allowing God’s grace to work in its own time.  This was the same patience that Abraham displayed in his life.  He was already 75 years old when God made the promise to Abraham that He would make him the father of nations.  But it was only 25 years later, at the age of 100, that Abraham and his wife gave birth to Isaac.  He waited patiently for the plan of God to be unfolded.  He did not give up that dream because of his faith in God.

What is this faith built on if not God’s promise alone?  If we have hope it is because the promise is not made by anyone or any human being but by God Himself.  God cannot go against Himself, otherwise He would not be God.  He is always faithful to His Word.  He is truth and love.   This explains why the author of Hebrews was so confident relying on God’s promise.  He said,  “When God made the promise to Abraham, he swore by his own self, since it was impossible for him to swear by anyone greater … In the same way, when God wanted to make the heirs to the promise thoroughly realise that his purpose would be unalterable, he conveyed this by an oath; so that there would be two unalterable things in which it was impossible for God to be lying, and so that we, now we have found safety, should have a strong encouragement to take a firm grip on the hope that is held out to us.”  Indeed, we must cling to the Word of God alone in all that we do. The psalmist testifies to God’s fidelity to His promises.  “He makes us remember his wonders. The Lord is compassion and love.  He gives food to those who fear him; keeps his covenant ever in mind. He has sent deliverance to his people and established his covenant for ever!”

Most of all, our faith comes from the Lord Jesus.  “Here we have an anchor for our soul, as sure as it is firm, and reaching right through beyond the veil where Jesus has entered before us and on our behalf, to become a high priest of the order of Melchizedek, and for ever.”  Jesus is the basis for our faith in God, for by His death and resurrection, He revealed to us His victory over sin and death.  With Jesus in heaven interceding for us and having prepared a place for us in His Father’s House (cf Jn 14:2f), we can be confident that with Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life, His Father will make His home in us.  (Jn 14:23)

But we need to cling to our faith in Him if our hope is to be sustained.  Only faith in Him will help us realize our hope.  Faith and hope cling to each other like sisters.  Hope inspires faith and faith strengthens hope.  How then can we strengthen our faith so that we will never lose hope? St Paul urges us to imitate “those who have the faith and the perseverance to inherit the promises.”  Abraham is our exemplar of what faith in God is all about.  Although he never saw the promises fulfilled in his time, his faith was unwavering.  Indeed, the author remarked, “All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland … they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”  (Heb 11:13-16)

But our hope goes beyond just receiving the rewards of heaven; it is founded on our relationship with the Lord.  “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pt 1:8f)  It is the thought of sharing fellowship with the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit that fills us with great joy.  There is no greater joy than to meet Christ face to face and enter into His love and joy.  “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.”  (Gal 6:9f)


Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved


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