After the Waves, What to Hope? Putting God First
22 de mayo de 2021
Fr. José Granados, dcjm
The traditional «Disciple’s Festival» is a time to thank and honor the gift received by the disciples that extends to our family. And to honor this gift is to recognize the promises within, exploring its fruitfulness in every moment of our story.
Our time is that of a paralyzing pandemic, which is symbolic of other paralyses that our society and Christianity are experiencing. Paralysis is associated with a fear of facing the future, as if it were impossible for us to inaugurate a future. And so, this question arises in the face of the gifts we have received: how can we renew within us the desire, the expectation, and the will, which are so necessary to rebuild all that has fallen? The answer lies in hope.
- The Pandemic and the Question of Hope
The pandemic has disturbed our experience of time. We have been like the confident runner who suddenly encounters an obstacle and falls. However, the one who has stumbled has not been a specific individual, but a whole society and an entire world.
Quevedo says in a verse: «time, that neither returns nor stumbles». This, which the poet refers to the inexorable course of the hours and years, can be applied to our modern age, to the unstoppable progress in which we have believed to live. And in fact, this progress neither goes backward, valuing memory, nor is it interrupted by humiliating stumbling.
However, it turns out that the coronavirus has meant a setback of progress, thus accentuating the doubts of our time about the future. Time, our common time, has stumbled. Here is an example of the slip: «when will Euro 2020 be played?» Answer: 2021 (and, indeed, the name «Euro 2020» is retained).
We do not know if such a stumble will just be an accident in the race of progress, which, after getting up and shaking off the dust, will continue so rampant. But, in any case, the stumble may help to reveal certain paralyses that progress produces in us, under its apparent haste. Was so much progressive security in the future, when it has so easily gone down the drain, filling us with unease or fear in the face of an uncertain future? How have we gone so quickly from confidence in a future that was in our hands to the feeling that the future has nothing to do with what we do or fail to do on any given day?
That’s right: this time of confinement has accustomed us to passive waiting. The optimist thinks that we will get out soon, the pessimist fears new outbreaks and variants. But in one thing they both agree: the salvation we are promised has nothing to do with us or with what we do every day. If we are freed, it will be regardless of the way, good or bad, that we work, love, and rest. Others (the state, or science, or the internet) will bring the vaccines, find ways for us to keep working, decide on confinements, and then free us from them. We had already become accustomed to being passive in the face of political decisions, but the pandemic has made us passive also when these decisions touch our specific schedule, our range of freedom, what we eat or drink, and even the greeting or farewell we give to family and friends.
Let us ask, again, the question: Are we merely passive in the face of the future, or can we contribute to its blossoming? And what future is within our reach?
Christianity has answered this question by speaking of the virtue of hope. For hope is precisely a virtue, that is, a force to act, which distinguishes it from mere waiting, such as that which takes place in the doctor’s room.
This also distinguishes hope from modern progress, which we have seen stumble in the pandemic, and which is progress in the singular and sometimes even with a capital letter. Indeed, by trusting in progress, we believe that the future, at least the future of technology, will always be better, and this reassures us in the face of the problems to come. But where then is the weight of our actions? Is this progress, like the salvation we hope for from the pandemic, not given regardless of what we do?
There is a decisive question when we speak of progress: and who progresses? Who is the subject of this progress? Modern progress refers to the accumulation of knowledge and procedures that expand the possibilities of all those who want to use them. This means that progress is not concerned with whether or not the very person called upon to enjoy these advantages that progress brings will improve or not. Progress is not concerned, for example, with whether or not that person will be honest.
And here lies a crucial difference with hope, for hope focuses on the maturation of the person and his or her flourishing as a person, asking: what makes our life full, that is to say, great and beautiful? And this question cannot be answered without putting oneself at stake, in word and deed, that is to say, without the answer going through one’s action.
Let us add that, while progress affects everyone separately, who may or may not then make use of the technique at his disposal, hope always declines in the plural, because we understand that our own fullness is not in isolation, but rather in communion. Hope presupposes that we have a common purpose with those around us, that is, that what is called to grow and develop is our life together, our communion.
Could hope be reborn after the pandemic? The pandemic has revealed to us what we had already lost for a long time: we lack the impetus to live and to build up the greatness of a common life. We live by inertia, moved by others, ultimately by anonymous processes, without believing ourselves to be the protagonists of anything. What we do seems to be automatic, to continue with the same old things, without thinking if and how a fullness matures in it.
Could the pandemic be a kickstart toward hope? We could say so, for example, if in this time, forced to risk ourselves to defend what is most valued, we had discovered our capacity to live towards something that surpasses us. I think of what this pandemic has required in terms of the struggle for family relationships and friendship, the struggle for the care of the elderly, the education of children, the worship of God….
During the confinement of March 2020, when the cars of the city went silent, the birds could be heard well. Even the passing silence of progress could give rise to a different song, not only that of passive waiting, but also that of working hope. Is it our duty, in our daily actions, to create a future of plenitude?
- Acts of the Apostles: Proclaiming the Gospel in a World Without Hope
As an image to guide us in understanding hope, let us take the life of St. Paul in the Acts of the Apostles. For there we learn that hope not only seeks to preserve what existed before (maintaining normality), but that it expands, pushing the Church to bring to the whole world what was promised to Israel.
This is appropriate for our time, for Acts is not only the first chapter of the history of the Church, but rather symbolically contains, in the life of the first Apostles, the whole journey and the whole mission of the Church until the end of time.
Acts is a book of hope, because its key lies in the resurrection of the Lord, which the Spirit already shares with us in advance, and which is spreading to the whole world. At the end of the book, Paul will repeat that he is in chains «because of the hope of Israel» (Acts 28:20), that is, the resurrection from the dead. The tribune Festus summarizes Paul’s concerns in this way: «a certain Jesus, now dead, whom Paul says is alive» (Acts 25:19). This is a good summary of our hope before a world for whom Jesus has been buried (hence «post-Christian»), but whom we know to be alive.
The path of the Church in Acts takes place between the Jews and the Gentiles, between the sons of Abraham and David, and Greek society. What were the hopes that nourished those men?
- a) Let us take, on the one hand, the Greeks, who had discussed and explored much about hope. For them hope belonged to the main affections of the soul, together with love, hatred, fear…. Specifically, hope impels us towards a distant good, arduous to achieve, but which is considered possible, within our reach. Hope is therefore an essential ingredient of human life because it lives always in tension towards the future, living it in anticipation.
But what is the ultimate goal of hope, and how can we prevent it from closing its horizon or lacking the energy to reach the expected good? In order for hope to mature without becoming misplaced, we need to educate it, directing it to the fullness of man, to a great and noble life, so that it does not lose itself in pettiness or dream of the illusory. To this end, two virtues are of great help: magnanimity and magnificence. The first seeks honor, not as vainglory, but as excellence to tend to goodness, truth, beauty. Magnificence, on the other hand, orders and fosters hope in material goods, advancing their fruitfulness in the service of men.
Although they aspire to a great good, Paul’s judgment of the Greeks is that they live «without hope and without God in the world» (Eph 2:12). They have hopes, yes, and not only of many lesser goods, but even the hope of an exalted life, proper to the hero. But, accepting only the human measure, they lack an essential dimension of hope, which opens them to God, to union with Him. This is the hope that propels the whole journey of St. Paul, and which is fulfilled in the resurrection of the body. This is why the Greek philosophers whom Paul addresses in the Areopagus of Athens abandon him when he speaks of the resurrection. Dante placed these Greeks in the limbo before hell, for they lived «with desire, but without hope».
- b) In contrast to the small hopes of the Greeks we find the hope of the Jews. The Jews count, yes, on God, but they seem to have reduced him to their measure, without expecting too much of his power. This is clear for the Sadducees, who saw the hope of Israel as merely earthly, without accepting the resurrection. For the Pharisees, on the other hand, who accepted the resurrection, it turned out to be the wages of their own efforts, and thus was reduced to the measure of man, and not according to the capacities of God himself.
Do we not also fabricate a religion to our own measure, which takes God for granted, and does not allow him to unfold in us all his greatness? Paul, on the contrary, presents himself as the one who has given witness to the true hope of Israel, which is the resurrection, not because of our merit, but because God himself has sent his Son to justify and sanctify us, communicating to us the measure of the Father, who will pour out his Spirit upon our mortal bodies.
- Paul: Itineraries of Hope
Before Jews and Gentiles, then, the Christian novelty, which points to the resurrection, makes its way. But is this hope only an ultraterrestrial hope? What relationship does it have with what we can do here and now, with our spousal love, with the education of our children, with the teaching of our students? Does it not remain an inaccessible hope that can only come to us from above, but does not transform our journey through this world? The story of St. Paul will help us to respond by indicating the itinerary of hope.
- Hope from the Encounter with Christ: Paul’s Conversion and Vocation
The conversion of St. Paul is a key moment in the Acts of the Apostles, which is recounted two more times. The first is the story according to St. Luke (Acts 9). The other two are from Paul’s own lips, as an exhortation to the Jews (Acts 22) and to the authorities of the Gentiles (Acts 26).
What happens to Saul on the road to Damascus? He does not go, like those of Emmaus, discouraged and crestfallen. On the contrary, he falls to the ground when he was marching full of plans, with a clear and decided itinerary. In the pictorial tradition he is even knocked off a horse, a symbol of the warrior’s power and determination. Well, just then, when the projects are broken, when the unstoppable progress of the hero is interrupted, hope is born.
We see, first of all, a new opening of horizons. From the «no» that he then sought, Paul passes to the «yes», and to a universal «yes». In fact, he will no longer strive to put an end to the threat to his faith (a «no»), but to expand the faith of his Fathers, through the Messiah Jesus, so that it may reach the whole world (a universal «yes»).
Secondly, for the horizon to expand in this way, Paul must abandon a hope based on his own power, like that of the Greeks. His great hope will now be to participate in the glory that is shown to him in the Risen One. Paul will become the bearer of the name of Jesus (Acts 9:15), that is, of his story and his destiny. If Jesus identifies himself with the Christians (Acts 9:5: «I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting»), it is because the Christians also have part of this light and this lordship that appears in Jesus («in being persecuted, you identify yourselves with me»).
From here we understand why the conversion of St. Paul runs through the entire book of Acts, being narrated up to three times. These are not superfluous repetitions. They show us how Paul’s experience belongs to his proclamation. He does not speak of an abstract Jesus, but of the one he met on the road to Damascus. The truth of the resurrection, of this great hope, is proved by how it is reflected in the account of his Apostle. Christ’s hope is not for him alone, but is something capable of being communicated, of being «hope for us». Therefore, we can only bear witness to Jesus if we unite it to the witness of the greatness that he has communicated to our lives.
Let us look at a third feature of hope. St. Paul describes his conversion to the Galatians with these words: «when God deigned to reveal his Son in me» (Gal 1:15-16). What has happened, therefore, is not only that God reveals Jesus to Paul’s eyes, but also that, in Jesus, God reveals Paul himself to Paul’s eyes. That is to say, God reveals to Paul that Paul is, in Jesus, the son of God. This is why the encounter with Jesus means for Paul to understand his vocation as a son and opens his horizon so that he can always turn towards the Father. The goal of hope is fixed: the embrace of God the Father.
Now, how can we think that this goal is possible, so as not to despair of reaching it? The question is decisive, because reaching the Father is not given to our isolated forces. To answer this question, we must understand that hope does not rest on us alone, but on someone who loves us and whom we love, on a friend who can do more than we can do alone. This is why Paul will later refer to this moment as the time when he was «overtaken by Christ» (Phil. 3:12).
And then he, for his part, will set out to catch up with Jesus, leaning on Jesus himself. The fall of the horse is the beginning of a different journey, no longer relying on the power of a beast. Paul’s new means of transport will preferably be the sailing ship, where we must open ourselves to a wind that surpasses us, the wind of the Spirit which unfurls wider horizons before the bow of our ship. The real question for the Church today is no longer «what do you say about yourself?» but «where are you going?», quo vadis? and it can only be answered by following Christ.
In short, hope relies on God as a friend in order to attain what it hopes for, which is God himself. And this friendship of God has become clear and possible in the risen Christ. From the risen Christ we can even say that God has a basis for hoping in us, for trusting that we will be able to reach the ultimate goal.
From this moment on, Paul’s hope becomes a concrete person: «to know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, dying his own death, in the hope of attaining to the resurrection from the dead» (Phil. 3:10-11). We no longer expect only something that the friend will give us, but we expect the friend to give us himself. Christ becomes the project and the illusion of Paul, because in Christ we go to the Father and we find him.
In the pandemic we may also have fallen off the horse, from the security of our march through the world, and thus perhaps have understood the need for a different rhythm, which opens us to a history greater than our own and, in this way, allows us to be true protagonists of it. For, as Paul’s conversion shows us, our life is moving toward the resurrection of the flesh, and every time we are configured to Christ we draw closer to that resurrection. In this way, we understand that our small daily works direct us toward the ultimate hope, taking concrete steps: in our family or work life, in our rest and celebrations, in our concrete efforts to transmit the faith. Paul’s story will continue to show us how this is possible.
- Places of Hope: Finding Jesus in the Eucharist
Let us look at another aspect of Paul’s conversion. Jesus appears to the Apostle as the head of the body of Christians: «I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting». This phrase already contains Paul’s entire vision of the Church. The Lord can identify himself with his disciples because he is the head of the body. And this unity is born, according to St. Paul, from the Eucharist: we are one with Christ because we eat of the same bread. The Eucharist is, so to speak, the place where hope germinates, and for this reason Paul never ceases to celebrate it throughout his mission.
For example, the Eucharistic sign (the breaking of the bread) that Paul fulfills on his last voyage to Rome, when the ship is on the verge of sinking and all seems lost (Acts 27:35), is impressive. The ship’s load of wheat had to be thrown into the sea, yes, but all the crew, almost three hundred, were saved. And let us note that the wheat, the fruit of man’s labor, is not lost. On the contrary, in the breaking of the bread it has fulfilled its ultimate destiny. For it has been integrated into the Eucharist shared by Paul and his people in order to save mankind.
This last Eucharist on the sinking ship takes on symbolic value in our time of struggle, for the Church, agitated by the waves, but certain of being saved and of bringing salvation to the world. Faced with the «let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die» of the pagans (1 Cor 15:32), Christ’s followers can say: «let us eat and drink (the bread of life and the cup of salvation), for tomorrow we shall rise again». All our food and drink (and in it the offering of all our love, suffering and work) is thus a step on the itinerary of salvation.
The Eucharist is decisive, we said, because it marks the place of hope. And in that place we are already planted, we do not have to look for another. Our hope is not that of a nomad looking for a place to settle, but that of a well-rooted tree that can now bear more fruit. We already have the place where it is possible, even easy, to hope. To work for hope is to work to expand to our whole life what we celebrate in the Eucharist, branching out into practices of work, family, social life, leisure….
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput recently wrote a book entitled Things Worth Dying For. To paraphrase, we could say that we have in the sacraments (from the Eucharist to marriage) those «places where it is worth giving one’s life,» because the blood that falls there will not be shed in vain, but will bear fruit. This means that they are places associated with our identity and our destiny, places inseparable from our name. It seems necessary to recover these relational places and to understand their primacy: they are not only rooftops that crown and embellish, but foundations of the building, without which it is not possible to live.
We can ask ourselves about the places of hope and our capacity to build them. If our works are seeds of hope, to work outside these spaces is like throwing the seed without preparing the soil. The Gospel needs to be planted, to take root, to regenerate the soil, and for this it seeks areas of relationships, concretized in common practices. These environments are today more necessary than ever for the faith, in the midst of a society that can be compared to a desert, rich in sand of isolated and solitary grains. Benedict XVI called these fruitful environments «habitats of faith.” Thus our family, and also our «family of families,» and our parish and school and workplace, are places of hope, which radiate to the whole of society. To care for these areas, to give our lives in them, is to contribute to the fulfillment of our ultimate hope.
In the cultivation of these spaces of hope, the temporal rhythm (daily, weekly, monthly) with which we take care of them is essential. The weekly rhythm is of special interest, because it is the one that gives weight to the course of life, since the week embraces work and rest, and with it the whole cycle of daily life. It is logical then that the Eucharist, affecting human action so closely, should be celebrated weekly, centered on Sunday, unlike the annual Jewish Passover. If this weekly rhythm did not exist, would it not be that these places are rather tangential, that they do not fully touch and shape life, that they do not have an impact on education or edify society?
In the narrative of Acts there is a moment, at the beginning of Paul’s mission in Europe, when the narrator switches from the singular to the plural and begins to speak of «we.” It is thus clear that Paul’s story is not solitary, but is accompanied and shared by others. Paul does not evangelize alone, but from the common space of the Church. He is never a solitary tree, but part of an orchard or a forest. Thus we understand why St. John Chrysostom could say that Paul’s heart was the «heart of the world […] So great was his heart that it embraced whole cities, peoples and nations, for he himself says: ‘My heart is enlarged’ (2 Cor. 6:11). And then Chrysostom himself adds: «the heart of Christ was the heart of Paul» (To Romans 32:2: PG 60:679-680).
- Hope from the Memory of the Gifts
From the moment he meets Christ, Paul understands that his actions, great and small, already anticipate his end and, in this way, mature him. The future, although infinitely beyond him, does not arrive apart from him, but through his works, just as the good-tasting fruit passes through the branches of the tree, even though it in turn surpasses them. This hope springs for him, moreover, in the Church, founded on the Eucharist. Alongside this space of hope, let us see how hope also has its times.
To do this, we will look at the other two accounts of Paul’s conversion, which take place within the context of his mission to Jews and Gentiles. The second account of Paul’s conversion (Acts 22) is addressed to the Jews, who are the first to be evangelized. It is interesting that Paul now presents his encounter with Jesus as corresponding to the tradition of Israel, speaking of «the God of our Fathers,» and of Jesus as «the Righteous One.» In a certain way the call, in this second account, does not happen only for Paul but for all the People. We are thus told that hope is based on a common history that goes back to the origin of the world. There is no hope without a shared memory, for our story is part of a great story that precedes and accompanies us.
This appears clearly when Paul sees in Christ the fulfilment of all the plans that the Creator placed in the heart of man from the beginning. Without this look at the origin, there is no hope. Today we speak of a great «reset», a computerized term to describe a radically new beginning, made possible after the pandemic devastation. But hope does not seek a computer «reset», but rather what we could call an organic or arboreal «reset», which also means: a pruning in which accessory branches are eliminated, but the vital root, the original source of life, remains. The technical «reset» belongs to progress, the vegetal «reset» or pruning is proper to hope, because it keeps alive the memory of the original gifts of the Father.
This confirms that the hope of the Church, the great hope of God, does not mean leaving behind the small hopes inscribed in creation. Rather, it is that the small hopes can be lived from the great hope of friendship with Christ and with the Father. Like salt, which enhances every other taste, so great hope enhances small hopes. This is so because the great hope consists in the resurrection of the flesh, and therefore pierces the flesh of our love, of our work, of our memories and illusions.
An example of this need to recognize the gifts can be found in the importance of the family in Paul’s evangelization. This happens, for example, with the conversion of Lydia, who welcomes the Gospel together with her entire household, or in Aquila and Priscilla, a married couple who share Paul’s profession and who later accompany him on his missionary journeys. The family is a place of hope because it is the place of a «we» (the husband and wife, the parent and the children) that opens itself beyond itself to receive God’s action.
Moreover, in this second account, Paul’s conversion consists precisely in accepting a vocation that goes beyond the limits of Israel. In other words, it is now a matter of recognizing the breadth and fruitfulness of the gift received. Hope invites us to explore the possibilities for the future that are open to the original gift. Thus, fidelity to God’s gifts, by being itself fidelity to His promises, is fidelity to the future.
All this shows us the criterion of hope as a criterion for demonstrating the truth of the Christian faith. It is a criterion that looks at the gifts received and their fruitfulness. The Gospel is credible because from it is given the maximum fruitfulness of the original gifts that we perceive in our life. Christ manifests his lordship in his capacity to expand to the maximum all the promises inscribed in creation, in our family and in our work.
- Hope from the Fruitfulness of the Future
According to this, the presence of Christ not only rediscovers the original gifts, but also opens new, unsuspected paths, expanding the promises that we already perceived in those gifts.
This is seen especially in the third account of Paul’s conversion, which Paul pronounces before King Agrippa and before the Roman governor (Acts 26). In fact, if we reread Paul’s encounter with Jesus (Heb 9), we see in him both a conversion and a vocation. In this third account, however, conversion hardly appears at all, and everything is centered on vocation, on the call of Jesus to Paul, thus looking toward the future. It is a matter of proclaiming salvation also to the Gentiles, to those who walked without hope and without God in the world.
This newness applies, for example, to family life. Paul, as we said, sees in the family the original plan of God for humanity. In one of his sermons (Acts 17:16-34), he affirms that God fashioned the human race from Adam and Eve, united by the same flesh. Well then, concludes the Apostle, precisely because we are one family, God has been able to unite the whole of human history so that it may lead to the resurrection of the flesh of Jesus, a member of our family. This implies that the family is called to go out of itself, so that the flesh becomes capable of receiving new gifts. In the resurrection, the body comes to speak a language that surpasses that which is learned in the family.
This implies that from the perspective of Christian faith the mission of the family is redefined. Let us think of believing parents, called to communicate to their children not only the life of this world, but also the call to an everlasting life. That is why many parents, in the Acts of the Apostles, lead their entire household to baptism. Normally, children are the joy of parents, who see in them the future. And this is still true. But now, at the same time, parents have opened their children to the ultimate future, as Paul opened it to the Christians of the communities he founded. And so parents are also the children’s hope and joy, because the children have received from them a gift that already participates in the fullest and most perfect gift.
This also means hope in communicating to others the gifts received, inviting them to enter into this very, very fruitful path that leads to the resurrection. Hope therefore shines forth in the mission of the Church, which is the expansion of the Gospel, its power to colonize all life and all lives. And there is hope in the mission because, as happens many times in Acts, God opens the hearts of men so that they listen to the testimony of the Apostles. This mission today also involves caring for the living environments or habitats of faith, so that they may continue to be fruitful. This is why St. Paul often returned to visit the communities he had already established and wrote them long letters.
- Hope in Chains as the Fullness of Hope
The account of Paul’s conversion ends with Jesus saying: «I will show him what he must suffer for my name’s sake» (Acts 9:16). After his conversion and his mission to proclaim the Gospel, a new stage of hope opens up in Paul’s life: he must bear witness to Jesus in Jerusalem and in Rome, suffering for Christ. Paul’s journeys now continue, but it is no longer he who directs the action, but rather he is led and carried in chains, even «in chains by the Spirit» (Acts 20:22). His greatest adventures take place when he leaves the helm in the hands of another. Thus we understand that the consummation of hope does not consist in our doing, but in allowing ourselves to be done by God.
The time in which we live is a time of patience, because we cannot do what we would like: the coronavirus symbolizes the difficulties of a society in which Christian life means going against the current. Let us remember what the Jews he meets in Rome say to Paul. They had heard about Christianity and summed up their judgment as follows: «We have heard that this sect [the Christians] is being opposed on every side» (Acts 28:22).
It is a time of patience, therefore, but patience does not mean passivity. The patient person is the one who does what is possible, even if it is not everything, even if it is not definitive. Thus, the patient person prepares the ground where God will send his light and his water, and he also brings the seeds to that ground. For our task is not to make a better world, nor to convert the world, but to make a better heart, both our own and that of the people entrusted to us.
In this way, with patience, fortitude is consummated, for what is most proper to this virtue is not so attacking evil as resisting it. For when I attack, I face enemies who are less strong than I am (that is why I attack them), whereas when I resist, I do so against stronger enemies, for which greater virtue is required. Hence the proper act of fortitude is martyrdom. Hence Paul ends Acts by preaching in chains. This is something essential for our families, for our children and students: to transmit to them the conviction that death is not to be feared, but only a death without glory, that is, a death that is not lived as the mature fruit of a full life.
It will be said that martyrdom is a very improbable eventuality in our time and in the West. But the important thing about martyrdom is not whether it happens or not, but the anticipation that we make of it and that seals our whole life. And this anticipation is possible because we already participate in the love of Christ, the friend of whom and for whom we live. When one decides that, for the love of Christ, there are things that one is never willing to do, then one does not change only a future occasion, but one is already changing the whole present. Because then the seriousness of life is understood and one gives oneself up differently to what one does, knowing the importance of each concrete act. The relationship with Christ, then, becomes the center of one’s life, because one is ready to give one’s life for Him.
This is what happens with spouses who express, when they marry, that they will always remain faithful, and in this way they are transforming every moment of their journey. This is why marriage is a source of hope, because it anticipates the whole of life, even death, placing it under the sign of fidelity.
Hope looks to the risen life, beyond death. And it can do this without forgetting this concrete life, because it does not see death as a thread that is cut off and interrupts the plot. No, death is rather like a ripe fruit of life, which is cut from the tree by its own weight, like the fullness of the branch and the trunk and the roots. Hope lives not only of an eternal life that will begin after death, but of an enduring life that has already begun and whose ultimate fruit is the resurrection of the flesh.
The time after the virus opens up as a time of hope and strength. Following the path of Acts we understand the great dynamism of God’s plans, which leads all things toward the Risen One, as the wind leads the ships. On this path we perceive and are grateful for the gift that the Lord has given us as members of the great disciple family, a gift for which we are grateful at Pentecost. It is the gift of a friendship with Christ, in Mary and in the Church, so that what has happened in Him may happen in us. And this great hope already germinates in the concrete space of our relationships: in the family, at work, in the mission, in suffering….
This presence of the mystery helps us to think of hope as a way of putting God first. He has hope who puts God first, in the sense that he grants him the region of the future, the one that is coming, the one towards which we are walking. We recall Péguy’s image in The Portico of the Mystery of the Second Virtue. Péguy speaks of the three theological virtues (faith, hope and charity). And he says that, while faith is an old woman and charity is a mother who devotes herself to her family, hope is a little girl, which shows the grace of a new origin. And everything is done for hope, as everything is done for children.
Acts of the Apostles ends in hope, that is, open to a greater future, from the preaching of the Gospel. Without narrating the death of Paul, the Apostle remains preaching the Word freely, even though he is in chains, for «the word of God is not bound in chains» (2 Tim 2:9). It is a symbol of the Church and of our communities, also with many chains, but also free to proclaim lasting life, friendship with Christ, destiny in the Father.
This brings the answer to the question with which we began. After the waves, we must regain confidence that the future depends on our concrete actions, precisely because they are not solitary actions. For they are part of a great story, in which the Father leads the world to be conformed to the risen Christ. And we can be protagonists in this story, because whatever we do in the Lord, whether in caring for family love, in striving for the education of our children, or in building up our bonds between families and in our parishes, all of this prepares for the ultimate maturity of the risen flesh, flesh fully united to God and to our brothers and sisters.
St. Luke, at the beginning of his Gospel, narrates the announcement of the angels to the shepherds, full of certainty that the journey to Bethlehem will be completed: «You will find! (Lk 2:12). And this coincides with the last word of Luke himself in Acts, when he assures us that the proclamation of the Church will bear fruit: «They will listen! (Acts 28:28). In the same way, confidence is born in our concrete action, in the family, work or leisure, school and society: «He will rise!»
Fr. José Granados García, DCJM, Superior General of the Disciples of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary