Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 7, 2022
St. Peter Catholic Church
Lindsay, TX

Wisdom 18:6-9
Psalm 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20-22
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
Matthew 12:32-48

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that faith is confident assurance that our hopes will be answered and conviction about the things we do not see. We do not hope for what we see; faith is a not a matter of mathematical certainty nor is it a command for us to become gullible or naive. We have hope because God, who can do all things and who knows and loves us completely, has promised to be with us always in His love. Faith is believing God and in God’s promise, but we need someone to tell us about the promise.

For this reason, the Letter to the Hebrews talks about our ancestors in the faith. They are the ones who first announced the faith to us and who shared with us the gift of hope. We hear the voice of the Lord through their lives and their experiences. Saint Paul tells us that faith is given to us by God through our hearing, not simply by our reading.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that our ancestors who died in the faith did not obtain here in this world what had been promised them by God. This is especially evidenced in the lives and deaths of the martyrs. They acknowledged themselves as strangers and foreigners on earth while setting their hearts on an eternal homeland won for them by Christ. As Catholics, we are to spend our lives seeking that eternal homeland through prayer and works of charity and mercy. The fact that God’s promise of eternal life is not fulfilled in the here and now does not mean we should capitulate and be discouraged. Our faith, if it is authentic, opens the door for us to hope in Christ.

We do not know the specific events in Abraham’s life that prompted him to leave a rich and successful life behind, but whatever happened, Abraham understood in these events a call from the Lord to begin a new journey towards God Who called him.

Abraham and Sarah, his wife, understood her pregnancy not to be luck or the result of their own planning, but as God’s gracious intervention and fulfillment of His promise for what was previously judged to be impossible. Then we are stunned when we hear that Abraham was willing, at God’s direction, to sacrifice his own son, Isaac. Abraham was no murderer nor was he insane, but somehow, he had faith in God’s will in this shocking command and had hope in God’s power to bring about goodness over evil. Fear of the Lord always brings authentic hope and confidence in His omnipotence.

God’s angel stopping the arm of Abraham in drawing the sword of sacrifice against Isaac reveals that it is not God’s will nor pleasure to receive the blood of human beings to pay the sacrificial debt for sin. In this intervention by God’s angel, it is revealed that the true God of Israel, the only God, does not demand human sacrifice as the evil spirits and false gods of the pagans did. God will send His Son, Jesus Christ, to make the only fitting sacrifice to redeem our debt — the gift of His own life by the shedding of His Blood. The presumptuous shedding of innocent blood wreaks despair upon those who perpetrate it and those who entice others to shed it.

The theological virtue of hope is entirely necessary for our salvation. The Holy Spirit gives us hope at Baptism and again at Confirmation. Hope is the bridge between faith and charity. We can lose sight of the virtue of hope in our contemporary culture influenced by evangelical Christianity on the one hand and secular individualism on the other hand. These influences prompt us to emphasize a sense of assurance for life in this world in place of hope in eternal life. For example, Luther thought that faith alone is all that is necessary to offer us the assurance of our salvation. This approach frequently leads us to sins of presumption or despair. In response to this, the Council of Trent clearly taught that faith without hope cannot offer us a share in God’s life.

What is there about God that prompts us to hope? The scholastic theologians in the Middle Ages wrote much about this question because it is a question that concerns what makes the good news of the Gospel to be so good. Saint Bonaventure thought that it is God’s faithfulness that prompts us to hope in God. Others thought that it is God’s mercy. Yet, Saint Thomas Aquinas, clearly identified the motive for our hope as being God’s omnipotence. “Nothing is impossible for God,” especially when we accept our powerlessness as His children.

The most perfect expression of hope is recorded in Luke’s Gospel and contained in the words of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation. “He has shown the strength of His arm and has scattered the proud in their conceit; He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly; He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich He has sent away empty; He has come to the help of His servant Israel for He has remembered His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham, and his children forever.”

Faith without hope will never lead us to the generosity required for every expression of Christian love. For example, priestly and religious vocations are even more clearly engendered by hope than directly by faith. It is such hope that brings the fortitude needed for a young man to answer the call to give his life as a priest for the sake of salvation and not simply for the goods of this passing world.

Our seminarians show a confidence born of hope by their willingness to give their lives to God when the contemporary world demands disrespect for both life and God. The lack of priestly and religious vocations, even where examples of faith are in evidence, shows a lack of a willingness to hope and a sad capitulation of living in this world with timidity as if this world is all that there is compelling us not to act with confidence but rather to settle for survival by paying the extortion of cowardice and selfishness.

To have hope is not to know every detail of the future. To have hope is not to live without vigilance. Yet, uncertainty of the events of the future and confidence in the outcome are not cause for fear and discouragement when we have authentic hope. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “The dark door of time, of the future, has been thrown open. Whoever has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life. Abraham with a trusting heart entered into the hope that God opened to him, the promise of a land and of ‘numerous descendants,’ and left ‘not knowing where he was to go,’ trusting only in God.”

Hope in God is the calm for all our fears. Hope in God is the answer to our futility and limitations. Hope is the door that God opens to the prison of our powerlessness and lack of control in the contemporary darkness of these times. As Saint Thérèse of Lisieux wrote with hope, “everything is a grace.”  Hope is better than assurance because it brings us closer into that right relationship with God who is love. To rely falsely on a sense of self-assurance can lead us to see the intimate relationship that God offers us simply as a transactional matter of His being useful for our purposes and desires.

Jesus in today’s Gospel shows us in three parables how waiting for the fulfillment of what we hope for, that is His Coming, should urge us, especially young people toward a profound life, replete with generosity, and ripe with good works. We hear Jesus tell us what He told His disciples in today’s Gospel, “Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach, nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”

In a few moments, Jesus again will share the sacrifice of His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity with us at the banquet table of the Eucharist. As we approach, Jesus invites us to share in exchange for His gift of Himself, not only our possessions but our very lives. Jesus invites us and enables us to do so with confidence and unselfishly without craving property or autonomy, but to flourish according to the logic of God, the logic of compassion for others, and the logic of love born of hope. So, as we celebrate this Eucharist and worship God in the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass, I ask you to consider the following questions when you receive Holy Communion. Where is your treasure? Where is your heart?

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