Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Present Tense of Hope

The readings at church this past Sunday came from II Kings 4:42-44 in which Elisha miraculously feeds 100 men with 20 loaves, Psalm 144 for which the congregational response was “You open wide your hand, O Lord, and grant our desires,” and John 6:1-15 in which Jesus feeds the 5,000. Father Padraic, whom I got to know last year, gave a lovely homily that emphasized God showing up in history, ultimately through the incarnation where he walks up another hillside to feed the people as he opens wide his hands on the cross. It was a fabulous homily for an English major.

But as any of my regular readers may recall, God’s presence was an issue of serious question for me this past spring. Furthermore, though Ireland has proved to be a refreshing holiday from my characteristic melancholy, the intensive language school has a tendency to push each of its victims to his breaking-point throughout the summer, and Tuesday ended up being my day to snap. That afternoon I found myself unable to study and hounded by all the questions that I knew where waiting for me in the US, and I left my homework and went to the cathedral to pray.

And eventually Father Padraic showed up beside me, having uncharacteristically decided to do his evening prayers in the cathedral that day, and finding me crying in front of the crucifix he asked me if I’d like to get a cup of tea with him. We walked to a nearby cafe and talked for about an hour.

“But there are sometimes God doesn’t seem to show up,” I interjected at some point in the conversation, thinking about the situation this past spring. “And I can’t walk away unless God starts providing more people. Sometimes there is no one else...”

“Watch out with those kinds of words,” Father Padraic interrupted me. “There are six billion people in the world. You only have a vague idea of what God is doing with one of them.”

“I know...” I admitted. “I know I shouldn’t say any statements with words like ‘no one’ or ‘never,’ but it certainly seems like God stands aloof sometimes.”

“Maybe you’re asking for the physical proof like Thomas was,” Fr Padraic suggested. “Unless you have the categorical evidence that you can see and touch you will not believe in the risen Christ. But blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe. The call of the Christian is a call to hope in the risen Christ.”

I never thought of myself as a Cartesian materialist demanding physical proof. But maybe he was right; one way or another, he was certainly dead-on with suggesting my need to grow in hope.

“What do you mean by hope?” I asked. “Is hope in this case a future thing, hope that God will work everything out in the end into a beautiful story that makes all the evil worth it? I have plenty of that, but a hope for the future can often lead to a despair in the present.”

“No,” he assured me, “it is a hope for the present, hope that the risen Christ is alive now and working miraculously whether or not you see him. Your friend back home, for example, might have 50 people in her life right now; it is a hope that God is using the other 49 as well, whether or not you see it. It is also a hope that God is taking care of you, using people in ways they are not aware of to meet your needs, like when I came to the cathedral this evening when I would normally be elsewhere. You are not always given the chance to see him, but he is risen.”

The next morning was the feast of St. Martha. At mass we celebrated her belief in the resurrection that she had in the midst of her grief, hope that was not only in the future tense, but also the present:
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha said to him, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love father patrick!
sometime you need to read the book Tapestry by Edith Schaeffer.