PASTOR SPEAKS – JULY 2017
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
After a very long and intense period of Lent and Easter, as we enter into Ordinary Time in Liturgy, I feel I must remind our local Church the need to ‘hope’ because of the situation in our country. There is no guaranteed and bold stand of the government at centre to protect the minorities. Lynching, the much hated barbaric behaviour is permitted by the society in some parts of our country. The would-be new-president of the sovereign, secular State of India is quoted to have said that Christians and Muslims are aliens in India. We need to be prepared and not panic before these irresponsible statements and happenings. That’s why I prefer to speak about Christian ‘hope’ in this issue. In his Commentary on Psalms, Hillary of Poitiers repeats a question that was addressed to Christians by many of his contemporaries: Christians, where is your hope? This question is still being addressed directly to them. If it sometimes contains tones of self-sufficiency or scepticism, this matters little. Christians know that hope is their responsibility. They are called to give an answer to anyone who asks for a reason for their hope (“Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you,” 1 Pet 3, 15). Today this responsibility has become a crucial one. It is one of the critical challenges that the Church faces: is the Church able to open up vistas of meaning? Does it know how to let its hope for the coming of the Kingdom, which was the hope of Christ, be the source of its life? Does it know how to give hope and the possibility of a future to concrete, personal lives, and show that it is worth living and dying for Christ? Is the Church able to call people to a life that is filled with beauty, happiness, and meaning because it is filled with hope, as was the life of Jesus of Nazareth? These questions cannot be avoided because we are not able to give a long-term hope since our cultural horizons seem to close us within a narrow thinking. Ours is a ‘society of uncertainty’ where we continue to talk about the ‘end’ (end of Christian world, ideologies, modernity etc.), and where even the few hopes that manage to express themselves in a society are not allowed to take root. In such a time, the urgent question is: what can we hope for? The two previous Popes and the present Holy Father are relentless in promoting hope and giving it to the young adults. If the Church wants to promise hope to the world, it must give it to the young adults today.
It seems that the enemy of hope today is the indifference which we can trace to the sense of lack of meaning, or even the sense of the irrelevance of meaning. The theological virtue of hope must be expressed in a visible, concrete and lasting way in a concrete place; otherwise it becomes an illusion and rhetoric. An interesting passage of St. Augustine tells us that, ‘Only hope makes us Christians’ (The City of God 6.9.5). In other words, our experiences as Christians are not new or different in themselves, but hope leads us to invest our experiences, our relationships and all of reality with a new and a different meaning. Defining hope is not difficult. What is difficult is actually living in hope! Certainly we can call hope ‘an active struggle against desperation’ (Gabriel Marcel) and ‘the capacity for intense activity not yet expended’ (Eric Fromm) but hope is above all what allows us to walk on the path way of life, to be human—we cannot live if we do not hope. Homo viator, spe erectus: it is hope that keeps us on our feet and walking forward, and that makes us capable of facing the future. Christians find their hope in Christ (‘Christ Jesus, our hope, 1 Tim 1,1) – in other words they find in Christ the ultimate meaning that illuminates all realities and relationships. In this way Christian hope is a powerful reservoir of spiritual energy, a dynamic element grounded in faith in Christ who died and is risen from the dead. Christ’s victory over death is the source of the believer’s hope that evil and death, in all of the forms in which they appear in human life, will not have the last word. Christians share their hope with others through forgiveness, which conveys the message that no fault committed has the power to close the door to the future of a life. They also communicate their hope by living among others in a way that expresses their faith that God wills the salvation of all people, as the Paschal event makes clear (1 Tim 2, 4; 4, 10; Titus 2, 11). Most importantly, Christians communicate their hope by living according to the logic of the paschal event. This is the logic that makes it possible for Christians to live in community with people that they did not choose themselves, and it also make them capable of loving even their enemies, those who are difficult to love, and those who express hostility towards them. It is the Paschal logic that leads Christians to endure hardships, trials and suffering with joy and serenity, and it is what guides them towards giving their lives – that is, towards martyrdom. When I met Pope Francis in September last year, as soon as I approached him he said, “Oh from India, the new land of martyrs!” If we want to see an authoritative narration of Christian hope in the Church today, it is towards situations of martyrdom and persecution that we should look. There the hope of eternal life, of life in Christ beyond death, finds a mysterious, disquieting, yet extremely concrete and convincing narration. There Augustine’s words become credible: “Now our life is hope; then it will be eternity” (Commentary on Psalms 103.4.17).
Let me conclude these reflections with the prayer of abandonment:
Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will. Whatever you may do, I thank you: I am ready for all, I accept all. Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures – I wish no more than this, O Lord. Into your hands I commend my soul: I offer it to you with all the love of my heart, for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself, to surrender myself into your hands without reserve, and with boundless confidence, for you are my Father. – Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916).
+ Thelagathoti J. Raja Rao, S.M.M.,
Bishop of Vijayawada