Perseverance in Bringing Hope into the World
Odds are over the years you’ve hard some of the stories of the saints and the great things that they’ve done, but you’ve probably also heard many of the challenges that they faced as they dealt with adversity. For instance, consider the following (stories taken from beliefnet.com)
Saint Patrick brought Christianity to several thousand people in fifth-century Ireland, transforming it from a pagan country to a Christian one. He also founded many churches and monasteries there.
But the Catholic bishop faced many challenges to do so, and he gave all credit to God for helping him overcome those challenges. They included escaping captivity, taking the place of a missionary bishop who was killed, being unjustly imprisoned and facing constant danger from the pagans who didn’t want him there.
Or take the story of St. Josephine Bakhita. Captured and enslaved in Sudan when she was only a child, the saint was severely abused and suffered at the hands of her first four “owners.” Although the last two families treated her like a trusted servant, when she and the child she took care of had to stay with Canossian Sisters in Venice, Italy – during a family move – she realized it was where she was meant to be.
To legally win her freedom and, later, entrance into the religious order, she had to find the courage to fight racism and injustice. After everything she had endured in her life, she finally became a Daughter of Charity in 1896. She went on to become a beloved nun who brought kindness and compassion to many children and adults. After surviving so much suffering, she was finally treated with the love, respect and dignity she deserved.
The list of saints and holy men and women who have endured much is endless; Padre Pio was looked at with intense suspicion by Church authorities; Pope Francis endured essentially exile into a monastery in Argentina when the leaders of the Jesuits changed; Saint Charles de Foucauld lived alone in the desert striving to gain Muslim converts with little success; Sir Thomas More served the king faithfully only to see the king become a heretic and eventually kill him and strive to persecute the faith.
What all of these people share in common though is they are people of hope.
In our first reading this week, we hear of Job; the suffering servant of God who endures so much. In the reading Job is lamenting his situation; expressing his frustration at what he is going through, as he does through much of the book. Eventually he is vindicated at the end of the story and finds happiness again – though the journey is long.
Our Gospel from Mark’s first chapter has the start of Jesus’ ministry, where he cures and helps people and has the words “For this purpose I have come.”
Job laments but does not give up; Jesus too of course goes through something even worse than Job, but also does not give up, but rather shows us hope. Such is the task for all of us.
Indeed, we all go through challenging moments in life. And maybe we look at the state of affairs in the world, or with people in our lives, and it can be tempting to just give up, or think “what’s the point?” But all of us have a job to do – for this purpose we have come, for this purpose God has put us here. So how then do we be a people of hope? I think a few things can help.
For one, we pray daily. God is with us through the peaks and valleys. Prayer gives us strength, and reminds us of how God is always with us. Prayer also helps us discern our mission and how to carry it out.
Second, we persevere with what we feel God is calling us to do. Maybe it’s evangelization, striving to get someone to return to Mass. Maybe it’s with ourselves, striving to overcome a sin or a bad habit. Or trying to change hearts and minds; there will be setbacks, but we can’t give up.
Third, we try to have a positive attitude. If you’ve seen photos of Mother Teresa, you’ll often see her smiling; this despite the incredible challenges she had with poverty and pain day after day. Though her struggles have been well documented, she kept going forward and brought hope and joy to so many. We’ve all been around people who are negative or take the life out of a room; but when we inspire others with honesty but also optimism, we can do so much to bring them up.
Fourth, remember God believes in you. Again, that is why we are here. The apostles who are called will often fail along the way, but Jesus still picked them. As we strive to make ourselves better, we will stumble too and there will be setbacks – but persevere and believe in yourself as God believes in you.
Fifth, we need to think big. In particular with the world, it can be so easy to get fed up with the choices people make and look at why so many people choose immorality, or stop going to Mass, or are like Pilate in that truth stares them in the face and they don’t recognize it. Think of the apostles and the early Church; the persecutions, the martyrdom most of them faced, wondering how on earth can what Jesus began succeed? Yet here we are 2000+ years later. Yes the world has problems – but God did not come to destroy, but to help, to love and to show us the way to true happiness. As His followers, we need to strive to do that by not being afraid to proclaim the truth and live it out.
Finally, we need to be patient. Progress takes time, and when we have a setback or there seems to be no change in something we are trying to change in ourselves or others or in the larger world, don’t give up. Just look at the results of the pro-life movement; hearts and minds have changed, and lives have been saved because people don’t give up.
As I’ve shared many a time, winter is my least favorite time of year. As I write this bulletin ahead of time, I do not know what the Groundhog has predicted (I’ll go with an early spring as that’s what I’m hoping for!). But by now the days are indeed getting a little longer, and in time spring will finally get here, though it’ll take a bit yet. The same is true in life. Like Aslan returning to Narnia ending the long winter, God’s love can end the winter in our world an in people’s hearts – let us join God in doing just that by not giving up on the world, ourselves and one another.
Have a blessed week, ~Fr. Paul
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