[19th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C, August 7, 2016 Wis 18:6-9 Ps 33:1+12, 18-19, 20-22 / Heb 11:1-2, 8-19 / Luke 12:32-48]
In a job interview three candidates were asked what is the most hopeful thing that could be said about them at their funeral. The first said that he was a great guy, the second that he was not just a great guy but the company really did well after they took him on, the shares rocketed and branches were opened up all over the world. The third upon reflecting on the most hopeful thing he would like to hear at his funeral said, “Oh my God, look! His toes – they’re moving, he’s alive!”
Hope is essential for us. What are you hoping for? In the letter to the Hebrews the author writes: “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for.” (Heb 11:1ff). Faith and hope are linked as two intertwined virtues. In the faith and hope hall of fame one name is outstanding, that of Abraham. It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a country, and that he set out without knowing where he was going – “He went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country,” (Hebrews 11:8ff).
We have so many witnesses ahead of us who were full of faith, hope and charity like the African slave Bakhita, mentioned by Pope emeritus Benedict XVI in his encyclical Spesalvi, on Christian hope. She was sold into a life of slavery and was beaten until she was scarred by her cruel masters. She was introduced to the Christian faith and discovered Christ, her true loving master who also endured so much to declare his love for her. She found the great hope which could sustain her life in all situations, the love of Christ – “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Love gives hope and this love inspired Bakhita to forgive her persecutors. Bakhita became a Canossian sister and later Saint Bakhita.
That love can give hope even beyond death and suffering is well attested in a prayer of an inmate found in the dreaded German concentration camp at Ravensburg at the end of World War II: “Oh Lord, remember not only men and women of good will but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us; remember the fruits we have received, thanks to this suffering, our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this, and when they come to judgment, let all the fruits which we have borne, be their forgiveness.”
What can be a measure of our faith? Do we have a lively faith? Abraham was a man of faith and his faith bore fruit such that he had more descendants than the stars in the sky or grains of sand on the seashore. Jesus in the gospel reminds his disciples to be faithful, to be vigilant and filled with faith. He encourages them to be watchful like servants waiting for the master to return at an hour they do not expect. “You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” (Luke 12:35-40).
I remember preparing for my ordination as deacon in Rome. A Cardinal who was to ordain me asked to visit our house to speak to me. We did not know when he would visit until one evening the bell rang. Thankfully our house was tidy and in order! But it is not a Cardinal who will be visiting but the Son of Man! How great to be ready to receive him. Jesus himself said, “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”
What does this watching involve? Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote: “They watch for Christ who are sensitive, eager, apprehensive in mind, Who are awake, alive, quick-sighted, zealous in honoring him, Who look for him in all that happens, And who would not be surprised, Who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed, If they found that he was coming at once. This then is to watch: to be detached from what is present, And to live in what is unseen; To live in the thought of Christ as he came once, And as he will come again; to desire his second coming, From our affectionate and grateful remembrance of his first.”
As members of the Church we must keep a watchful eye on the signs of the times, on the situation of those who are in need, of those who suffer the most. Part of being vigilant is to be able to respond to what we see. Let us be vigilant watchmen and women in the world of today. Let us ask for the grace to stay awake and be faithful, hoping in the strength that God’s grace provides us. And may we always be prepared to respond when the challenges come. Amen.