What are your reasons to be hopeful?
I had no idea what the Archbishop wanted to talk to me about, that day back in 1994. I had never received a call to a personal meeting with an Archbishop before. I was in my 4th year as a high school campus minister, and enjoyed it immensely. And I was pretty sure that after the meeting, that would no longer be my job. But what I would be doing next, I had NO IDEA. The third sentence Archbishop Rigali spoke was to ask me if I would become the Vocation Director for the Archdiocese. It was a job I correlated to being the Maytag repairman of the priesthood – the loneliest guy in town. I confess, I said yes during that meeting more out of obedience than out of enthusiasm for the job.
As I drove home to Washington, Missouri, the clear sky got darker and darker. “Strange.” Then I remembered that there was an eclipse of the sun that day. And then I thought – there was an eclipse of the sun on the day Jesus died, too… Hmm, that was not very comforting. “What do you have in store for me, my God?” I didn’t know where my life was going, but being Vocation Director was not a direction I would have chosen freely.
In today’s first reading, we hear that Phillip came to Samaria. But what you don’t hear is the why. He came to Samaria because he had been chased out of Jerusalem. A great persecution had broken out. It looks like a bad thing, a calamity. Several of the disciples lost their lives, others were arrested. Yet, God used that. Because of the persecution, Philip becomes one of the first missionaries in the church. God used him in a way he would never have thought possible.
In my own life, I remember driving back thinking, “How will I get through this chapter of my life? And how long will it go on? The readings from Acts and Peter remind me/us all: “Don’t be too quick to think, ‘This is a disaster for me.’ You don’t know what God is making possible for you.” You don’t know what God is making possible for you!”
What God was making possible for me, some three years later, was a life doing college campus ministry – something that I probably never would have entertained on my own. But I can’t imagine have done anything else for those next 16 years. And now, though I still love my St. Ann parish and Newman Center, I once more am discovering what God is making possible for me here at St. Justin. And I know I am right where I am supposed to be, when I am supposed to be there. God is pretty amazing.
That is my first reason for being hopeful. There is no experience, event or decision or that you or others can make that God cannot redeem and work with. There is no outcome that God cannot or will not transform for his good and for our good. God is always making new things possible for us. That gives me great hope. I suspect you all know similar moments in your life’s journey.
“Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks for a reason for your hope…”
The second reason for my hope comes from the promise of Jesus himself. In this farewell discourse, listen to those most consoling words: “I will not leave you orphans!” No matter what life throws your way, Jesus says very clearly – I will not leave you like a motherless child – forgotten, abandoned, discarded. Rather, by the Spirit’s Power, you are grafted into the life of Jesus ever more closely. In the eight parishes I have been a part of these 32 ½ years of service to the church, I have known the presence of God, not leaving me an orphan. In each situation, there was LIFE for me. That gives me great hope, no matter what the future brings.
Those are just two of my reasons for hope. If you want more, go to the St. Justin website and look through the pictures from the day of service. Or look around this church at the goodness of the people who are co-pilgrims with you on the journey. Or in the face of the tragedies of life, look for the HELPERS who always show up.
The Gospel readings for this Easter season are taken primarily from the ‘farewell discourse’ of Jesus at the last supper. Around that table, Jesus prepared his disciple’s hearts for all the changes in store for them. Around THIS table, that same Jesus wants to prepare your hearts for whatever He will be making possible for you. As we gather to pray for that promised Spirit, may we always be ready to give an explanation to any one who asks for a reason for our hope…