Looking Forward in Hope

Homily, Ordinary Time Sunday 19C

What are you looking forward to? What do you hope for? What do you anticipate in the future that gives you the strength now to persevere through difficulties and trials? Many parents right now are probably looking forward to the start of the school year, a very ordinary hope. At a deeper level, many of us often hope for a great love or friendship, for being reunited with someone who means the world to us. Sometimes we hope to reach a goal that we’ve set for ourselves. Usually for Olympic athletes, it’s the chance to compete and to represent their country on the world stage, and they persevere through tremendous pain and rigorous training to reach their goals. 

For most of my own life, I was looking forward to being ordained a priest. And this desire to be a priest and to follow God’s will for my life helped me to endure many a boring lecture or difficult exam during my time in seminary. Now, maybe you’re just looking forward to the end of this Mass, and your hope for the end of Mass helps you to endure my boring homily. One of my nieces, nine or ten months old, likes to start clapping when she hears, “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” Regardless of what our goals are from time to time, it’s clear that in order for us to make it through the pains and sufferings of today, we need to be able to look beyond them, towards a future full of hope. Focusing only on the pain or trial tends to bog us down and make us forget where we’re headed.

But true Christian hope is not just a naïve optimism or wishful thinking to help us deal with suffering. Real hope is the realization that the whole of our lives should be directed, and is being directed by God, toward our final goal. Here on this earth, we have no lasting home. We are destined for life beyond the grave. Overarching all the small and ordinary hopes of day to day life, we should look forward to Christ’s return. Jesus warns us to be prepared, because He will return at an hour you do not expect. None of us knows how much time we have in this life, and we only get one shot at it. 

I’ve mentioned before that heaven is not just some land of generic happiness, perhaps with golf and cocktail parties. Depending on how you feel about golf and parties, that might actually seem more like hell. In reality, heaven is communion with God, seeing face to face the One who is Truth and Beauty itself. Heaven is union with God and with all the Saints in a happiness beyond anything we can experience on this earth. But how are we preparing ourselves for this union with God? Something else I am utterly convinced of is that God will ultimately give us what we want. He invites everyone into relationship, but He does not force Himself onto anyone. Those who end up eternally separated from God in hell are those who in their final moments persisted in a life of self-absorption. 

So the question for us becomes, what kind of eternity are we preparing for ourselves by the choices we are making in this life? Are we becoming more and more open to God, desiring more each day the life and happiness that He offers us beyond the things of this world? Are we becoming more open to the needs and concerns of those around us? Or are we becoming increasingly consumed by our own concerns and in the things of this passing world? If we find ourselves wanting to spend as little time as possible with God in prayer during this life, what makes us think we’ll want to spend all of our eternity with Him in heaven? 

Jesus always keeps His promises. He will return for us at an hour we do not expect. If the prospect of His return causes fear in us, what changes do we need to make in our lives so that we can begin to look forward to the Lord’s return? Lord Jesus, as we receive you in the Sacrament of Your Body and Blood, let your perfect love cast out all fear from our hearts, that we might look forward with longing to the coming of your Kingdom, now and forever. Amen. 

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