May 17, 2017

Homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 21, 2017, Year A

Christ with his disciples

Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
Hartford, Connecticut

All of us, at one time or another, have experienced deep disappointment.

In this context, today’s words of St. Peter take on a special meaning: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.”

When I started my theology studies, that was the very first text quoted in my very first class. Forty-five years later, these words have not lost their resonance.

The explanation we give for our hope will, ideally, be personal.  It really isn’t enough to say, “That’s what I was taught.”  Yes, of course there are reasons common to all believers, but we have our own reasons, too.  At some point, the hope we were taught became our own hope, probably at the moment when we realized that we really did believe in the Jesus Christ we profess in the creed.  Can you remember when that was?

Maybe it happened gradually, like the coming of spring, the blossoming of apple trees and lilacs; or suddenly, like the appearance of a jeweled rainbow.

What was the context?  Someone you admired?  (Just think!  You could be the first reason for someone else’s hope!)  Something amazing you witnessed, like the Samaritans in the first reading?  A narrow escape? Nature?  Art?  Music?  A special act of kindness?  A Scripture text, like today’s  “I will not leave your orphans.”  Even if you can’t articulate the experience perfectly, that’s not essential.  You can communicate it through a hope-filled life.

This is not the same as just having a positive attitude.  It is much deeper. It explains how disciples of Jesus can accept tragedy in their lives, how they can stand up for Christian values, how they can put up with being ridiculed for their beliefs, how they can even suffer and die for their faith.

In short:  it accounts for Christian courage.  St. Peter was writing to Christians who lived in just such a world.  Notice that he told them what to do “When [not if] you are maligned.”

St. Augustine said: “We have been promised something we do not yet possess, and because the promise was made by one who keeps his word, we trust him and are glad; but insofar as possession is delayed, we can only long and yearn for it. It is good for us to persevere in longing until we receive what was promised, and yearning is over; then praise alone will remain.”

For me, ultimate hope isn’t getting what I want.  Ultimate hope isn’t heavenly banquets and eternal choruses.  It isn’t meeting my favorite saints, or getting all the answers to all my questions, or even being reunited with loved ones who have gone before me.  My ultimate hope is one thing only: meeting Jesus Christ face to face.

Whatever your ultimate hope is, always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks. And live in such a way that someone might actually ask.

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