Friday, November 30, 2012

St Andrew, Apostle

Romans 10:10-18 / Matthew 4:18-22

There is something at once impressive and off-putting in Matthew's account of the calling of St. Andrew. As Matthew relates, Andrew, with his brother Simon Peter, were in the midst of their work, casting their nets into the sea, when they received the summons: Come ye after Me, and I will make you to be fishers of men. Andrew's response was absolute and unhesitating: and they immediately leaving their nets followed him. We hear the same of James and his brother John, the sons of Zebedee, who on hearing Jesus' call, left their nets and father, right there in the boat where they had been working, and followed Him.

This response is impressive because, unlike so much of what we do, whether in our mundane, daily tasks or in response to our life in Jesus Christ, we fumble and fail, we stumble, stall, and delay. We wait for more information and then, when the information is at hand, wonder if the whole thing is worth pursuing in the first place, only, all to often, to find the opportunity has passed us by. To see a man like Andrew give his life so fully and utterly, to show such a right understanding of value that he could, without delay, leave his very livelihood, even while in the very midst of his working, to follow Christ displays a kind of faith and desire we can only dream to possess.

Yet, we might also find this account off-putting. We are worried that this response is just a bit too impulsive, too lacking in the kind of reasonable weighing of goods that marks the rightly prudent man. If the life in faith calls for this kind of immediate response, seemingly without even pausing to consider the truth or value of the call, then we are faced with two equally unhappy alternatives. Either Andrew and the others acted entirely without any god grounds for doing so, in which case the life of faith is certainly irrational and quite likely immoral, or they did have grounds for doing so, in which case they seem to have access to a kind of knowing the rest of us do not. In this latter case, one wonders what kind of obligation we would have to imitate them if their following of Christ demanded an infusion of certitude that is denied the rest of us.

However, we ought to remember that Matthew's is not the only, nor by means the complete account of Andrew's call. When we attend to the witness of John's Gospel, then a fuller picture emerges. There we discover that Andrew had been moved by the preaching of John the Baptist and become one of his disciples. It was in light of what John said of Jesus that Andrew left John to go to the Lord, and to see, by the light of faith, that he was the Messiah. It was then that Andrew, the Protoklete, the "first-called," invited Peter to meet Jesus, to see the man he had come to know as the Messiah, that he too might become one of his disciples. It is only then, when they have become disciples, and yet nonetheless remain engaged in their work as fishermen, that Jesus approaches them along the see and calls them to follow him. That is, above and beyond their discipleship, Jesus has called them to something more, something deeper, something more profound.

Andrew, in other words, does not leave his nets on a whim, or as a stab in the dark. Andrew has been led to Christ step by step. If we still must posit in him the gift of faith from God, it is nonetheless a gift which has worked on him in accord with and by means of his knowledge and insight, rather than by setting them aside in favor or unreasoned impulse. What marks Andrew at every step of the way, then, is not some readiness to ignore his intellect and act blindly, but rather never to settle with the good he has so far received from God. What Andrew has modeled for us is a life ever open to a new and deeper encounter with and following of Jesus Christ: first to heed the friend of the Bridegroom, then to see Jesus as Messiah, then to call others to see the same, and finally, at Jesus' explicit prompting rather than his own, to leave all things to follow him.

We can, all too readily, be initially generous to God's call, initially generous to the new life promised us in the Gospel and then imagine that there will be no more need for radical generosity, no more need for a significant conversion in our life apart from the life-long conversion from sin. In Andrew, we are reminded that God does not desire us to be comfortable in the Gospel. We are to find our rest in no one other than Jesus Christ, and that means that no commitment to a life in Christ, however holy and noble, can we hold as final and absolute should Jesus summon us to an even deeper life with him. We may not all be asked to leave aside our nets, and many of us may remain working on the seashore. Even so, are we ready? Are we ready to heed the call when it comes, and with joy and not regret, to leave all things to follow Jesus our Lord?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thursday of the Last Week of the Year (II)

Revelation 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9a / Luke 21:20-28

Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb. Beati qui ad cenam Agni vocati sunt.

These are the words the Roman Missal uses to invite the faithful to receive Communion at the Mass, but they find their origin not in the Last Supper in the upper room, but in the eschatological vision of the Book of Revelation. There they serve as an invitation of the blessed who have survived the trials and tribulations of the end times and are called to partake in the wedding feast of Christ the Bridegroom, the Lamb once slain. At the same time, this wedding feast is also a victory banquet, a celebration over the fall of Babylon, the Great Harlot, and in this victory, the final victory of Christ over the enemies of his Church.

In this eschatological context, the be among the blessed invited to the supper of the Lamb is to have decisively taken sides. More precisely, it means to have held on to the truth, the faithful witness of the Lamb, even in the face of violent persecution, as well as in the face of the seductive potion of Babylon, the seductive call to compromise our witness to Christ for the sake of a share in her wealth, power, and influence. By placing these words into the mouth of the priest inviting the faithful to Communion, the Church means that we too must decisively take a side. The Church means for us to expose ourselves, and to do so willingly, to armies and calamity, to have our blood shed by the Great Harlot. All the while, we are meant to live not by keeping our heads down, not by hoping to pass by unnoticed and so bypass the trials and upheavals that must come. Rather, Jesus Christ exhorts us, in the face of the global, even cosmic, upheavals we must face, to stand erect and with our heads raised, proudly identifying ourselves on the side of the Lamb, and so also willingly opposed to even the best the world, the Harlot, and the Beast have to offer.

Every act of sacramental communion, then, is a public act of taking sides. However personal Communion is and indeed must be to be fruitful, it is never a hidden or private act, but always, by its nature, a public assertion of fidelity to the Lamb and a refusal to serve those who would oppose him and his Kingdom. In receiving Jesus Christ in holy Communion, we thus choose to expose our lives, our very selves, to the dark powers that continue to plague and molest our world, and will continue to do so to the end. Yet, we do so not in fear, but in hope and confidence. Brothers and sisters, we can stand up straight with heads held high because the end is not in doubt. The victory has already been won. We have only now to share, even now, even in pledge and anticipation of what will surely come: the glories of the eternal banquet, the wedding feast of the Lamb.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday of the Last Week of the Year (II)

Revelation 14:14-19 / Luke 21:5-11

One of the great works of American fiction is John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. The novel tells the story of the Joad family and their journey out of poverty-stricken Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl and the Depression, seeking a home and work in what is held out to them and the bounty promised by a life in California. Their journey is anything but uplifting, and on arrival in California, while they find great abundance of food there, they also discover that, in the midst of this plenty, people still go hungry and die of malnutrition, not because, as in Oklahoma, there was no food to be had, but rather because the large-scale farms cynically destroyed the excess and abundant produce, while also undercutting the small-scale farmers, guaranteeing that all profits went to them alone, even at the cost of countless lives.

There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success. The fertile earth, the straight tree rows, the sturdy trunks, and the ripe fruit. And children dying of pellagra must die because a profit cannot be taken from an orange. And coroners must fill in the certificates — died of malnutrition — because the food must rot, must be forced to rot. The people come with nets to fish for potatoes in the river, and the guards hold them back; they come in rattling cars to get the dumped oranges, but the kerosene is sprayed. And they stand still and watch the potatoes float by, listed to the screaming pigs being killed in a ditch and covered with quicklime, watch the mountains of oranges slop down to a putrefying ooze; and in the eyes of the people there is a failure; and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.

Steinbeck has used here the image from Revelation of the grapes of wrath, those ripe grapes harvested by the angel with his sickle and thrown into the great wine press of God's fury. Steinbeck's secular deployment of this image helps to remind us of an important truth, namely that God's harvest at the end of time is not simple about peace and bounty and plenty. It is also a story about righteous anger, of a virtuous wrath in the face of abuse, of a holy fury which kindles within us a deep desire to defend and vindicate human dignity.

If we would be part of God's fruitful harvest, it is not enough that we be the rich grain. We must also be the grapes of wrath, grapes filled with indignation against the assaults made daily on human dignity, grapes ready to be crushed out in the winepress of our suffering and tribulation for the sake of righteousness, if only then to release the choice vintage of justice and rightful vengeance against those who would abuse the poor, the weak, and the hungry.

Brothers and sisters, do we let ourselves be moved, or moved enough, moved even to anger, by the suffering of the poor? Are we ripe with virtuous fury, an anger that comes not from hatred of our fellow sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, but an anger that is rooted in a respect for the dignity of every human person, a yearning to see the flourishing on this earth which is meant to be enjoyed by all? Dare we let our confession of Christ's glorious return to judge the living and the dead be for us the fire that kindles our own burning desire to uphold that dignity, and so become a worthy and bountiful harvest for the day of the coming of Jesus Christ?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Last Sunday after Pentecost

Colossians 1:9-14 / Matthew 24:13-25

The wholesome and salutary proclamation of the Second Coming of Jesus, of the end of the world, its judgment, and the passing away of what has been, is not an easy task. It can be all too easy for some to worry excessively about Jesus' coming, to be so concerned about meeting him rightly disposed that, in their worry, they neglect to do those very ordinary, everyday things which are among the more important ways of being prepared to receive Christ's coming well. Others, seeing what seems his long delay, may confess the truth in his coming, but all the same fail to be moved by the truth of it, acting as though this truth cannot possibly come to pass for them, not in their own lifetime. Some may fixate on determining the coming of the Lord through exotic and obscure readings of the Scriptures, while others may insist that the whole doctrine itself was propounded not to tell of something actual, but rather to move us to live differently here and now in light of something that will not, in fact, ever come to pass.

The Church, however, in fidelity to her Lord, must confess not only that Christ's coming is true and, in terms of the divine plan, soon, but also that, on the one hand, we will not know the time or the hour, and, on the other hand, that his return will be so manifest to all that we ought, here and now, to refuse anyone who tries to tell us of his coming, since we will not need to be convinced of a coming foretold to be altogether manifest: For as lightning cometh out of the east, and appeareth even into the west, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. 

What we must recall is that Christ's return to judge the living and the dead, and the world by fire, is going to be the result of a free act on God's part. Like everything else in the plan of salvation, like all else in God's work in the world, but especially like every other aspect of the mystery of the Word made flesh, the end of the world will come out of the hidden counsels of God. It is a decision, a decision God will make, out of love and wisdom and justice, to be sure, and out of mercy as well, but a decision all the same. This means that the end of the world cannot be derived from any consultation of the world as it is. That is, knowing the constitution of matter and its decay will not tell us when God will bring it all to stop, and neither will counting letters in the Law or mapping the prophecies of Daniel onto current events. The only way we could know precisely when the world will end would be if Jesus had revealed it, and that is one thing we know most certainly that he did not do.

This means, then, that God does not want us to know, which in turn means that knowing the end of the world does not and would not help us to love and serve him in this world, nor to love him perfectly in the next. At the same time, knowing that God will bring this world to an end, a truth which was an important element in Christ's teaching, must certainly, by that very fact, be important for us to know. We need to attend to the fact that the story of the world is God's, not ours. We need to be reminded that the real significance of things, the real way to judge a life as well-lived or wasted, cannot in the end be derived from even the most faithful and faith-filled analysis done in light of this world alone. It is how our lives here and now direct us to the world that will come, how they form us to live when heaven and earth, all of our certainties and commitments in this life, have passed away, and God's words alone abide — this is what matters.

It is to stir up in us just this perspective that Jesus Christ has made known to us that he will, one day, one day soon, bring the heaven and the earth to an end. May we, then, seek more earnestly this fruit of the divine work, that we may receive more abundantly healing gifts from God's tender mercy.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

25th Sunday after Pentecost (resumed 6th Sunday after Epiphany)

1 Thessalonians 1:2-10 / Matthew 13:31-35

Jesus, the evangelist Matthew tells us, spoke in parables in fulfillment of the words spoken by the Prophet: I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world. On the face of it, this seems an odd pair of claims. After all, what distinguishes parables is, among other things, that they do not tell what they want to tell directly. By their nature, they are an oblique sort of discourse, speaking about one thing by telling a story seemingly about another. So, while Jesus' parables may utter things hidden from the foundation of the world, it would seem as though, in uttering them, they remain just as hidden as before.

Yet, this puzzle does not seem uniquely linked to the issue of Jesus' parabolic speech. After all, while Jesus does, on occasion, teach things directly and openly, for the most part we learn what the Incarnate Word of God has to say in episodic ways, through the narratives of his life, works, and sayings recorded by the evangelists and as expounded by the apostles in their letters. Jesus did not bequeath his Church as theological treatise, organized and categorized as we might hope. It is not that Jesus is never clear and direct. Rather, the fulness of the Gospel only comes to us precisely in the same oblique and slant way as the parables he tells in response to his questioners.

Of course, in our puzzlement, we presume, and presume without justification, that we are ready and able to receive the full truth of God directly. What if it were the case, rather, that our eyes, so long accustomed to the dim and the dark, would be dazzled by the clear light of God's teaching? Suppose that, even as God has decreed the sun to rise gradually upon the earth, and so allow his creatures to adjust their eyes to the dawning of the day, so also God has decreed that, from the darkness of our errors, and even from the dim light of our natural reason, the light of full truth has come to us slowly, that our eyes might adjust. It is the same sunlight that makes the rosy dawn as much as the bright sky at noon, and so likewise it is not as though we await a new and fuller revelation to supplant the coming of the Word of God in flesh. Rather, he came to us, and comes to us, so that we might learn to see and hear him, so that our eyes will one day be made ready to behold him, face to face.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Lucy of Narnia, O.P.

2 Corinthians 10:17-11:2 / Matthew 25:1-13

In the Chronicles of Narnia, while there are many characters dear to the heart of Aslan, the Great Lion and Redeemer of Narnia, Son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea, but perhaps none is dearer than Lucy Pevensie. It was she who, first among the Pevensie children, entered into Narnia through the Wardrobe; she saw, and believed. It was she who held to the truth of that experience even when not even she was able to reenter Narnia, even when tormented by her brother Edmund, who entered Narnia on Lucy's second trip there but then betrayed her and claimed to have made it all up as a game, and even when her oldest siblings, Peter and Susan, at first only indulged her claims, but then insisted that she behave and cease speaking of it. After their initial adventures into Narnia, and their living there as Kings and Queens, when the four would return again in Narnia's future, it was Lucy, and Lucy alone, who was able to see Aslan at first, and although she initially refrained from going to him because of her siblings' insistence that she did not see what she claimed to have seen, it was she who eventually would meet up with Aslan, and so restore the faith of all of the children that he had indeed returned.

Despite the marvelous coincidence of names, today's feast is not a remembrance of the fictional character invented by C.S. Lewis, but rather of a flesh and blood Dominican tertiary, Lucia Brocadelli, who was born in the town of Narnia, now called Narni, in the hills of Umbria, nearly in the geographic center of the Italian peninsula. Like Lewis' fictional character, Lucy, in her tender youth, saw our Lord when others did not, and pledged herself to him, even when those about her, wishing her the best they knew, sought instead to have her married. Although she tried for a time to yield to her uncle's wishes and did marry, her husband, at least for a time, indulged her desire to maintain her vow of chastity for the sake of Christ, as well as her many acts of asceticism and generosity to the poor. He even indulged her claims to have frequent discourse with the saints who, unseen by him, she claimed to be seen clearly by herself. When her finally could not accept that she kept the company of a beautiful man, who was none other than Jesus Christ, her husband had her locked up for an entire Lent, and when she fled at Easter and became a Dominican tertiary, her husband had the convent of the Dominican friar who had received her burned to the ground.

Both Lucy Pevensie and Lucy Brocadelli remind us of important truths of the Christian life. For both of them, the capacity to see and receive the Lord came, at least in part, from their innocence, their purity of heart, their willingness to receive gladly the world as it is, in all of its wonder and mystery. At the same time, both of them saw the Lord, and Lucia even received the stigmata, only by way of a gift. Innocent as they were, they also knew that their innocence, and the vision of the Lord which came as a result, was not an accomplishment, but a grace, not a reason for boasting in themselves, but rather for boasting in the Lord. Finally, even though both acquiesced for a time to balance the desires of their families with the visitations of the Lord, they came to see that only by placing the Lord first, only by pursuing the Lord Jesus without regard for others' misunderstanding, or even cruelty, would be able to set things right.

In the end, Lucy's siblings came to see Aslan, and even her brother Edmund came to be, through his forgiveness, wiser for the experience. Lucia, likewise, came to be highly valued, if even fought over, not for her hand in marriage, but for her presence and insight, and in time her husband Pietro would also enter into a life of religion, becoming in time a Franciscan friar. We do not, any of us, know the fate of those dear to us. Like the wise virgins with their lamps, the grace we have received from God we cannot portion out to others. It is a gift of God to us, and if it is to do our fellows any good, then it can only be by way of example, by living out our encounter with Jesus Christ so authentically that others will become imitators of us, and so, we hope, in good time seek the oil to trim their lamps, and so greet with rejoicing rather than regret, the coming of the Bridegroom.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

St Albert the Great, O.P., Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Wisdom 7:7-14 / Matthew 5:13-19

Albert, known to us as "Great", gained this appellation not from a mature reflection of generations, but during his own lifetime. He was also called, not merely by posterity, but by his own contemporaries, the Doctor universalis, the "universal teacher." There was, indeed, hardly a subject known to Medieval Christendom upon which Albert did not write. As we might expect from a Medieval doctor, he was learned in philosophy and theology, upon which he wrote numerous works, as well as those on the Scriptures, the mystical life, the Blessed Virgin, the liturgy and sacraments, and much else besides. However, in addition to this, Albert was fascinated by the world which God made, and his writings also include works on what we would now call chemistry, botany, climatology, physiology, and geology. He wrote a work on the training of falcons and studied the Roman ruins in his city of Cologne. He was even interested in the practical implications of his study, providing, for example, advice on the breeding of cattle and the improvement of crops.

The Scriptures tell us that those who acquire wisdom will come to have friendship with God. Such an assurance seems fine for Albert the Great, who knew something, and often a great deal, about nearly everything. His friendship with God was, we might think, all but assured. Yet, what about the rest of us? What of those of us who have trouble mastering even one subject? What is the fate of those who cannot, like Albert, fill nearly forty giant-sized volumes with powerful studies on every topic imaginable, and instead find trouble producing even a single paper?

The answer is not to be found in expecting some overnight infusion of knowledge by the grace of God. When we are told in the Book of Wisdom, I wished, and understanding was given me: and I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me, it would be reckless, even vain presumption, to imagine that præternatural gifts of knowledge are the rightful hope of all of the faithful. Rather, our way of sharing in the infinite treasure of wisdom is not in mystical infusion, but in humility. It is in seeking from others what is lacking in ourselves that we can come to know more than our own native powers would ever achieve. Wisdom, the fulness of wisdom promised by God, begins in an honest assessment of ourselves, neither falsely boasting of what we do not possess, nor failing to acknowledge and make use of gifts that we have received.

Brothers and sisters, none of us has been left without some gift to give, without some store of wisdom uniquely entrusted to us, some understanding to contribute to the whole. However limited we may fear we are singly, together our storehouse is overflowing. It is, then, not the path of keenness of intellect, however welcome and praiseworthy a gift, that we can open wide the treasury of wisdom, but in love, humility, and Christian fellowship. Can we, knowing how much we have to gain and how little we have to lose, accept the grace of Christ Jesus to be humble, and so, with St Albert, learn wisdom, a wisdom which, as this great saint reminds us, he learned more by prayer and devotion, than by study?

Sunday, November 11, 2012

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

1 Kings 17:10-16 / Hebrews 9:24-28 / Mark 12:38-44

We all know the tale of Jack and the Beanstock. Young Jack and his mother are desperately poor, with nothing to their name but a cow. Driven by need, Jack’s mother asks him to sell the cow — it would leave them with nothing else, and no hope in the future, but it’s the best she can do to let them live on for just a little longer. Jack, however, heeds the words of a stranger, and rather than getting a few coins for the cow, exchanges her for a few supposedly magic beans. His mother, not to our surprise, is not remotely happy by the exchange!

Now, we know that in the story, Jack’s deal turns out to be a good one — one which, in the end, enriches him and his mother beyond their wildest dreams with the treasure of a giant who lives beyond the clouds. Even so, we sympathize with Jack’s mother and see her frustration. To give up the last hope for a meal, for a few more days of living, on the unbelievable promises of a stranger is surely beyond foolish. What would we say, after all, about a mother who is generous with her paycheck to her needy coworkers and the homeless people she meets outside the office, only to leave her own children hungry, without heat, water, light or home? How would we judge a son who took a chance to help out his friend’s business dreams, a risky and highly unreliable investment, and gave him his parents’ entire life savings, all they could ever expect to live on the rest of their years?

However, it is just this sort of recklessness which the Scriptures seem to counsel today. They seem to say that with the widow of Zarephath and the widow in the Temple, we need to give and give even to the last bit we can call our own, even to our own detriment and of those who depend on us. What is more, what we think is reasonable — to make sure our basic needs are covered and then, only then, from what remains as surplus, to be generous to others — this perfectly reasonable-sounding policy seems precisely the attitude to fall under our Lord’s critique. Those who are generous out of their surplus Jesus at least appears to associate with those whose very way of life eats up the houses of widows while they congratulate themselves for their piety and generosity!

Our mistake in hearing the Scriptures this way is in thinking of ourselves in the place of the widow, that is as though we were living in scarcity, with only limited means that must be carefully rationed and portioned out. It is certainly easy to see why we think that about ourselves, even without looking at prospects for employment and money-raising in these present days. However, as Christians, we are not victims of scarcity but rather are unimaginably rich! Ours is a share in the inexhausable riches of Christ, our High Priest who has entered on our behalf into the heavenly Temple not made by human hands. There, by his one sacrifice of himself once offered on the Cross and brought to the Holy of Holies in his Ascension, we have no merely finite store of glory. Christ our High Priest has once and for all bestowed on his people, and continues to bestow, an unlimited bounty of mercy, of forgiveness, as a promissory note of the riches he will liberally spread about in his glorious return.

Without prejudice to the real, reasonable, even virtuous and holy limits we place materially on our generosity — there are only so many hours in a day, so many pennies in our checking account, after all — without in any we rejecting those important decisions, we who are one in Christ the High Priest can afford to be lavish in our generosity to others. Like the widow of Zarephath before the prophet Elijah — the pagan co-religionist of the wicked queen Jezebel before the exiled spokesman of the true God — we can afford to act out of trust in a bounty for which we have little evidence now but are no less certain will make good our most exuberant acts of kindness.

After all, we have a share in that promised bounty even now. We share in the bounty of our High Priest when we are objects of gossip and choose to bear with it patiently. We share in his bounty when we know embarrassing truths about those who have wronged us and yet remain silent out of respect for the good name which is theirs by right. We enjoy the bounty of our High Priest when we find ourselves tempted by images on our computer or the very palpable presence of that someone (even a stranger met but minutes before) who drives us wild, and yet we lavishly afford to forgo our own pleasure-seeking, freeing the other, anonymous or well known, from becoming the source to satisfy our lusts. Moreover, truth be told, most of us can even share in Christ’s bounty through being far more generous in dollars and cents, happily giving to charity that money so quickly spent on coffee, pizza or the latest app for our iPhone that will so quickly be forgotten.

Brothers and sisters, Christian generosity is not a stab in the dark hoping for a possible return in the distant future. It is not wishful thinking in the face of real scarcity in the present. It is no fool’s exchange of the cow of our real need for a handful of beans. Beyond the clouds, we who are made alive in the blood of Christ will find more than a hungry giant, a bag of gold, and the goose that lays the golden eggs. We have in that true heaven above the clouds nothing less than Jesus Christ who keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry and sets the captives free. The Lord loves us in our need and has richly blessed us in his mercy, so we need never fear. In the life of Christian charity, the jar of our generosity will never go empty and the jug of the oil of forgiveness in Christ Jesus will never run dry.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

23rd Sunday after Pentecost

Philippians 3:17-21; 4:1-3 / Matthew 9:18-26

Lord, my daughter is even now dead; but come lay Thy hand upon her, and she shall live.

Do we dare to hope for what we have no reasonable expectation may come about? When our reason tells us that an undesired outcome is all but certain, is it right or proper to set our reasoned objections aside and pray, with real expectations, of a divine deliverance? Ought we not, when faced ourselves with an unpleasant truth, or even more when those we love must face unhappy and heartbreaking facts, rather prevent the holding out for a divine rescue, for some deus ex machina of ancient Greek theater, and instead promote the acceptance of the real state of affairs, however terrible it might be?

In our piety, we may be happy to assert that nothing is impossible for God, and that we ought always to wait in hope. Even so, we know those times in which holding on to a preferred outcome, rather than the unhappy truth of facts, is unhealthy, both psychologically and spiritually. The dying patient who insists on every possible procedure on the grounds that it might work, and when these are exhausted spends all her energy on seeking healing from God, refusing any talk or counsel to prepare her for death, is but one example. Men who have lost their jobs and have no reasonable expectation to regain any like means of restoring their families to the style of life they had known before, students whose challenges at home have prevented success at school and so whose prospects for attending prestigious universities are essentially non-existent, mothers trapped in war-torn lands where the conflict has been, and shows every reason to be, intractable, trying to provide a safe haven for their children. While despair, in the moral sense of refusing to hold out that God can give to us those difficult goods for which we most deeply long, is indeed a sin, and it would surely be sinful to counsel despair, can we really, in good conscience, allow those we love to cling to hoped for goods that right reason tells us simply will not come about?

Yet, as reasonable as all of this is, we are confronted by the witness of the Gospel, of the saving power of Jesus Christ. We come face to face with the petition of the ruler of the synagogue: Lord, my daughter is even now dead; but come lay Thy hand upon her, and she shall live. We hear the desperate hope of the woman who was troubled with an issue of blood twelve years: If I shall touch only his garment, I shall be healed. On the other hand, those who speak of reasonable limits, who would limit what we might ask of Jesus Christ, laughed Him to scorn. How do we act, then? Do we disregard what reason tells us must come to pass, and so risk a foolhardy and naive hope of deliverance from every ill? Or, do we dissuade others and ourselves from such a hope in the saving power of Jesus Christ, so much as even to mock it, so as to keep us from painful disappointment?

The truth can be found, at least in part, in Jesus' words upon coming to the house of the ruler: Give place; for the girl is not dead, but sleepeth. The first thing we need to notice here is that neither the ruler nor the minstrels and multitude who laughed at Jesus understood the situation rightly. None of them understood that, insofar as Jesus had already intended to bring her to life, she could not rightly be called dead, but only sleeping. So also we must admit that, when confronted with ills for which we can find no reason and no solution, there may well exist goods in the mind of God, in the saving will of our Lord Jesus Christ, that exceed and undo our best descriptions of what we take to be the facts.

From this deep truth comes and even deeper truth, expressed by Jesus as a command: Give place. It is certainly true that we cannot will as good what we can only see as evil. We cannot adopt as an object for our own longing the ills that we suffer if we cannot see any way that such ills might direct us to the goods for which we long. All the same, we can give place. We can yield our wills to that of God. We can, without pretending to know the good God wills to accomplish in our lives, nonetheless quiet our wills and our longing, giving place to what God will bring about.

This is the attitude upon which true hope is grounded. We must always act on the basis of what we know to be best, and so it is folly, indeed sin, to pretend as though what is unreasonable to expect we should nonetheless pretend to be just around the corner. All the same, we must be ever ready to give place to the deeper and more profound wisdom found in the mercy of God, a mercy so wide and so deep that it would swallow the most incisive and keenest insights of our reason, were it not God's will to elevate our reason to share in his own. This is why, at one and the same time, we must act on the basis of the best that we can see and, without undoing that act in any way, be open to, and indeed pray for, a deliverance and visitation beyond any reasonable expectation.

Amen I say to you, whatsoever you ask when you pray, believe that you shall receive and it shall be done to you.