Joyfully Take Courage
Nineteenth Sunday of the Year. fr Richard Ounsworth shows how hope lies at the heart of our Christian life.
Our first reading today invites us to ‘joyfully take courage’. This expression is a wonderfully pithy summary of the theological virtue of hope. Christians direct their lives towards the future with absolute confidence in God, trusting that he has a plan for us and for the world and that – however hard it may be to discern – God is bringing that plan to fruition even now, and so facing our present reality with joy and courage.
It is this joy and courage that sustained Abraham throughout his life. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews proposes Abraham as a powerful model of Christian faith because his whole life was lived as a pilgrimage. Even when he was in the Promised Land of Canaan, he recognised that this was not his true homeland, but only a sign of it. It points beyond itself – as all signs do – to the heavenly realm, life with God, for which every human being was created. As St Augustine says in Book 1 of his Confessions, ‘our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.’
So if we find ourselves, in this present life, unsettled, uncomfortable, sorrowful and suffering, then we have the assurance that this hardship is part of our journey into joy. Of course, it is for those of us who are not suffering – it is indeed the task of the whole Church, and of every Christian – to make that hope believable, to make the pilgrimage to God sustainable, to bring into the lives of the sorrowful the authentic joy of Christ’s victory over sin and death.
The Church, through her life and especially through the sacraments, already lays claim to that victory, claiming to offer the world a foretaste and promise of the resurrection. This means that all of us, but perhaps especially our leaders, have the solemn duty of bringing hope. When it comes to politics, it seems to me (I hope I am not being optimistic) that we in the UK, and people throughout the world, respond better to hope than to fear, to a positive message than to a negative one. What we want from our leaders is people who will lead, who offer a vision of a better life and seem to hold out some hope of attaining it. We want something more than just managers maintaining the status quo or coping with decline.
This must, then, be all the more true of our ecclesiastical leaders. (When I was newly ordained a deacon, sixteen years ago, I preached to a congregation in the Caribbean and the priest celebrating the Mass told the people afterwards that they were to listen to me because I was a member of the hierarchy… so I am really talking to myself here, as so many preachers do.)
In today’s Gospel St Peter seems to have some inkling of the task that will lie ahead for himself and his fellow Apostles as the first hierarchs of the Church. He is worried, and rightly so, that the threatening words of Jesus directed towards those who do not watch for his coming, do not indeed actively prepare for his coming, are in fact aimed at him. To Peter and the Apostles, and to the Pope and his brother Bishops ever since, has been entrusted the care of the whole flock of God, his beloved children, and the extraordinary authority needed to carry it out. From him to whom much has been given, much will be demanded. We should pray hard for our Bishops and for all the clergy…
But we should also expect and demand much. Now, we Christians are not Marxists: we do not believe that we are going to bring about, by our own efforts, the perfection of humanity which in fact will only be achieved by God when he brings history to its fulfilment. But that does not mean that in the meantime we can rest easy. Our Gospel tells us that the Son of Man will come when we do not expect – he will break into history not when it seems to be finished, nor indeed when all seems hopeless, but at a time that makes sense to him. But when he does come, he expects to find us working for that Kingdom which he alone can bring to completion.
So let’s get working, and let’s look to our leaders, in the Church and in the world, to lead and to inspire us in this work, so that we can indeed face the future, and the present, with courage and joy.
Readings: Wisdom 18:6-9 | Hebrews 11:1-2,8-19 | Luke 12:32-48
The image above is from Ravenna.