Standing On The Promises of Christ: Our Hope Raiser!
Readings: (1st: Macc 7, 1-14; Ps: 16 1. 5-15; 2nd: 2Thes 2, 16-5, 3; Gos: Luke 20, 27-38)
This brief reflection was written by Rev. Fr. Njoku Canice Chukwuemeka, C.S.Sp. He is a Catholic Priest and a Member of the Congregation of the Holy Ghost Fathers and Brothers (Spiritans), Province of Nigeria South East. He is currently the Parochial Vicar of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church Woliwo Onitsha, Anambra State, Nigeria. For more details and comments contact him on: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
While reflecting on today’s readings, I remembered and sang this wonderful hymn composed by Russell K. Carter, in 1886: “Standing on the promises of Christ my King, through eternal ages let His praises ring. Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing, standing on the promises of God: Standing, standing… I’m standing on the promises of God! A glance at the readings of this Sunday will certainly reveal to one that the Church in her wisdom wishes to admonish us and also strengthen our grip on this very important theological virtue – HOPE. She teaches that no matter how cruel the world may treat us, we can always rejoice in the glorious future promised us by Christ, when we will be filled with the vision of God’s glory. She says to us today: Tolerandum et sperandum (We must endure and hope)!
“Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit”(CCC1817, p.401). A saying goes thus: As long as there is life there is hope!” As true as this might possibly seem, it is rather sad, but suffices to note that though some are living physically, they have lost the hope of this earth as well as that of eternal glory. Therefore, it could better be said that: “As long as there is hope, there is both physical and spiritual life. This is because, it is hope that sustains and urges one to live on no matter how tough life is, as it is written. “…We have this hope as an encounter for the soul, firm and secure” (Heb 6, 19). What keeps us going is the hope that one day our lives would be better, that “we shall see God face to face” (Rev 22, 4), that our mortal natures would be transformed into immortality, and that the fullness of life itself is in the eternal kingdom of God.
Ikedi loved noodles so much that on Monday mornings his mother usually prepares it for him to take to school for his lunch. However, one Monday, it happened that none was available in the house because his mother forgot to buy some during her weekend shopping. Ikedi went to school refusing to take along with him any other type of food. So, his mother made him a promise that she would prepare noodles for him before he comes back from school. During lunch at school, some of Ikedi’s colleagues who noticed that he did not come with any food persuaded him to eat with them but he refused by telling them that: “Mummy has promised to prepare my noodles before I get home, and I know she will not disappoint me.” Even though he was greatly famished, he endured it until school was over around 4.00pm. The hope he had in the promise of his mother sustained him till he returned home. Of course, his mother kept to her promise. This is what hope does. It is a silent and constant prayer!
As pathetic as the story of the seven brothers in today’s first reading appears, it is a typical example of how hope can sustain us, both in this life and beyond. These seven brothers faced persecution courageously and resiliently because of the hope they had in God’s promise of Eternal Life. “It was heaven that gave me these limbs; for the sake of His law, I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again”, one of them said courageously. Hope strengthens our fortitude, keeps us praying, and also, fortifies our faith in God. This is why the Church refers to it as a theological virtue because, it “adapts man’s faculties for participation in the divine nature” of God (CCC 1812 p.420). The lesson we must learn from this heroic act is that we must not be afraid of persecutions, hardships or even physical death. Rather, we should let the hope we have in the Eternal Kingdom sustain us in our difficulties, since we have a sure hope in the promises of Christ our Saviour. A couple of weeks ago an international news media broadcast a gory picture of some dead Syrian Christians who accepted the option of being hanged on a tree instead of renouncing their faith and becoming Muslims. They died because of the hope they had in eternal life just as the seven brothers who insisted that: “Ours is the better choice to meet our death at men’s hand, yet we rely on God’s promise that we shall be raised up by Him…” Due to fear of death some of us get ourselves involved in all manners of “rubbish” like: witchcraft, wearing of charms, divination, sorcery, cultism, gangsterism, apostasy, embezzlement, frauds, and devilish covenants just to sustain this mortal life. The fear of physical death has robbed many Christians of the hope of life eternal. Though some of us claim to be Christians but practically speaking, we are no better than “Hardcore Humanists” and Materialists. The church bids us today: “Let us hold on unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10, 23). The virtue of hope: “responds to happiness which God has placed in the heart of every man. It takes up the hope that inspires men’s activities and purifies them so as to order them to the kingdom of heaven. It keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment …” (CCC 1818, p.401).
In the second reading of today, Paul prays God who equips with comfort and sure hope to strengthen us in everything that is good. Paul wrote to a people like us today, who due to sufferings, persecutions, and hardship of all sorts longed for the immediate return of the Lord. In order words, it was a Church like ours overwhelmed by their hardship and so got entrenched in the strong belief that the day of the Lord’s coming will release them from their present predicaments. So Paul writes to them as he does to us today pointing out that before Christ returns, evil and wickedness will reach its apogee under the leadership of the mysterious figure called the “The Wicked One.” This is why he prays that our hope does not fail us, rather, that it should sustain us till the end. Hence he reminds and prays for us that: “…But the Lord is faithful and will give you strength and guard you from the evil one…May the Lord turn your hearts towards the love and fortitude of Christ.”
Finally, today’s Gospel is equally a “Hope raiser” in that Jesus dislodged and flawed the plots of the crafty Sadducees who wished to destroy the foundation of our faith in Christ – The hope of resurrection! This is why Paul insisted that: “If our hope in Christ is good for this life only, and no more, then we deserve more pity than anyone else in the entire world (I Cor 15, 19). The concern and fictitious story told by the Sadducees in order to trap Jesus is as good as the ugly situations of life that deceive and lead us into despair, and finally into being afraid of death, thus leading us to seek protection in the things of this world alone rather than in God. It is the same lie that the “Wicked One” poses to us that everything is all about this life. Unfortunately, many of us are deceived into believing this by making pacts with the devil. Today, the Church beckons us to hold on tenaciously to the promises of God, in joyful hope for their fulfillment. Let us then pray to God as the Psalmist today: “Guard me Lord as the apple of your eye. Hide me in the shadow of your wings. As for me, in my justice I shall awake, with the sight of your glory!
Peace be with you all!!