On Deflated Hope

On Deflated Hope

Hope? Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.”

– Ellis Boyd ‘Red’ Redding

I must admit, to my great shame, that I lost hope. It was for a fleeting second, and I’m not even sure it was an intentional thought. It snuck up on me. The New England Patriots had just scored making it a 28-18 game with 5:56 on the game clock in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LI. They were attempting a 2-point conversion and I had this thought: “Please miss this.” I know, I’m so embarrassed. I immediately dismissed the thought but I’m still ashamed that it was even hiding in my head somewhere. But I understand it’s origin.

At that point in the game I had already begun the difficult work of accepting a disappointing outcome. I had let myself grow detached from any desire for victory and simply wanted to see my team erase some of its huge deficit to make the loss respectable. I’m not a football expert but I have gleaned some things from listening to my fair share of angry sports radio. Being so far behind, with so little time left, they couldn’t just be good. They had to be perfect. And they would need some absolute miracles along the way.

And they were perfect. And they got a few miracles (Edelman’s catch, are you kidding me?!) And I was wrong to despair. Haven’t I seen Brady and Belichick do this before? I had every reason to hope, but the difficult road ahead let despair creep in.

 I think we lose hope because of how dangerous it is. Disappointment is easier when we can brace for impact. So we settle for being “good enough” and resist anything that draws us up and out of being merely good to being perfect. Internal voices and those people around us ask the question, “What right do you have to desire and to expect perfection? You’re just so far from perfect!”

Over the last few Sundays we’ve been hearing Matthew 5. Jesus has been laying out the structure of His Kingdom and describing the attributes of its citizens. After all, winning citizenship in the Kingdom of God is our greatest hope—far greater than the hope of winning a Super Bowl. But His demands so are hard. We are blessed when we’re poor and mourning? We should pray for those who hate us and go the extra mile when our service is demanded? We should give until it hurts? Maybe what he means is that we should generally try our best to be a good person and show kindness most of the time. But no. He clarified it for us with these words: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

It’s enough to cause that same voice in my head that said, “please miss this,” during the game to say something similar in response to Jesus. Because if hoping for the Kingdom of God relies on my being as perfect as our heavenly Father, then part of me would rather not try. Part of me would rather accept being “good enough” and losing in a respectable way. In this week’s Gospel reading, Jesus speaks directly to that part of me:

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.”

Jesus speaks of worrying about food, drink, and clothing and tells us not to worry about where we will get them. In some sense He is talking about literal food and drink and clothing, but He means more than that. He means that God will provide exactly what we need to be citizens who have a right to desire and expect our own perfection in His Kingdom. Brady and Belichick are a fantastic team, but they have nothing on the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The road to victory is difficult, demands perfection and seems impossible. But nothing is impossible for God. He gives us the church, where we pray for and build each other up. He gives us the Holy Spirit who makes us holy and begins the process of perfecting us. He sends miracles along the way, the greatest of which is the Eucharist—Jesus, truly present and alive in our midst. The sacraments are all miracles, Edelman-like catches that provide a spark and ignite us onward and upward.

If being perfect, as the Father is perfect, completely depends on my efforts, then there is no hope. I’m more likely to lead a fourth quarter down-by-25–come-from-behind Super Bowl comeback win. But thanks be to God that perfection and eternal citizenship in His Kingdom are not up to our efforts alone. Because we have Jesus, we can hope.

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi

I like to think if I were a follower of Jesus in his earthly ministry I would have been able to pick up on the pattern:

  1. Jesus encounters people suffering and in need
  2. Jesus performs a miracle and meets their need
  3. Jesus gives us a teaching about who He is and why He is here among us

I’m smart like that.

So when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed 5,000 men, not counting women and children, I’d knowingly look over at one of my apostle friends and smile, “Watch this Bartholomew, now he’s going to say something awesome.” This time is a little different though. This time Jesus goes to pray alone while we all pile into a boat and cross the sea (just an aside, there was a huge storm and Jesus walked on water to us. No big deal).

The next day all the people come across the sea to where we are. They’re curious, seeking and excited. I see what you did there Jesus. Make them wait a day and come to you. Nice touch. John, get ready to write this down.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”

Well played Jesus. We should hunger for a relationship with you and thirst for righteousness like we hunger and thirst for food and water! Still, these new disciples are taking your analogy a bit too literally. Maybe you should clarify?

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died…I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Lord, that might be taking things in the wrong direction. See, the people are confused because they think you mean this “eating and drinking” literally. If you explained that this is just a metaphor for meditating on your teachings or that its symbolic of learning to share better that might help.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

Now the people are leaving. “This saying is too hard. Who could believe it?” Jesus, call them back! Tell them it’s all an analogy! It is all an analogy, right? You wouldn’t let people leave you because they couldn’t understand a metaphor, would you?

Now Jesus looks at us. At me.

“Do you wish to leave also?”

Peter speaks up, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”

This changes everything.

Because Jesus isn’t some ancient teacher whose wise words remain with us today.

He is with us today.

In the Eucharist we can actually know the risen Jesus—not a long dead historical figure. He is alive and wants an intimate and eternal relationship with you and me.

Our God comes to us in the appearance of simple bread and simple wine. The Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ are really and truly present in the Eucharist we receive, because that is the promise He made.

The Holy One of God, for whom and through whom all things were made, desires to dwell within you and me.

His grace transforms us. We become what we eat and, by this Eucharistic miracle, Jesus abides in us.

“When you approach the tabernacle remember that God has been waiting for you for twenty centuries.”

-Saint Josemaría Escrivá