In our second reading today, St Peter instructs those he is addressing to be ready to explain the reason why they have such hope. This is one of those moments when I think we can realise how close we are at this moment in history to the situation of the early church.
For many years and in many parts of the world, Christianity was the culture. I am not saying that everyone was becoming saints. But Christianity was kind of the water that everyone swam in, the air that everyone breathed. Since everyone was Christian to some degree, it was probably rare that one felt the need to explain one’s decision to be Catholic. Or in the case of infant baptism, it was probably rare that one felt the need to explain the hope. Again, this is not to say that one should not have been ready, nor that many people could in fact articulate it. It is just to say that since it was a shared background, it was not often questioned.
This is not the case today. We all know that. Being religious is now something that seems to need explanation, especially among younger generations. Being Christian is no longer something that people can assume. We all know this from our families, from our friends, from our social circles. And it looks like this will only increase at least in the short term. And so our situation seems to mirror that of the early church. We do need to be ready to explain our hope.
Fr Joe Caddy had this great description of this situation. He said that people these days don’t even know what is on the menu. Our culture today is fast losing its memory of Christianity. It is forgetting the story. Forgetting the teachings. Forgetting the muscle memory of ritual. There are many and varied reasons for this.
All this to say that St Peter’s instruction to be ready needs to be heard once again, in all its urgency. We must be able to explain our hope. And of course this presumes that we are indeed a hopeful people.
And I think we are for the most part a hopeful people. However, when it comes to hope there is always room for growth. We can never have too much hope. And in fact, a hopeful personality is a very attractive personality. Being hopeful people is probably one of the best things we can do to evangelise our communities. St Peter probably says to have explanations at the ready for our hope because hope makes people curious.
So, what might be one way we can grow in our hope? Again, I am sure you are sick of me saying this, but one way to gain more hope is to make sure our lives are properly Eucharistic: that our lives really do conform themselves to the pattern of the Mass. What do I mean by this?
A shorthand definition of faith is that we believe that Christ is the Son of God and humanly really did rise from the dead. And a shorthand definition of hope is that we believe that God is doing the same for us if we are in communion with Christ. And so a concrete experience of hope then is to search out a part of our lives that feels deadly, and give it to God to transform into life.
Is there a relationship that seems to have runs its course? Is there an intellectual roadblock that I cannot seem to have overcome? Is there a temptation that always sneaks up on me? Is there a teaching of the Church that I cannot seem to follow or that I just don’t understand? Perhaps each of these might be an opportunity to grow in hope. Perhaps each of these areas, or whatever area I come across when I pray about this, can be an opportunity for me to experience God’s power in my life? An opportunity for God’s light to conquer my darkness?
In our Gospel today, Jesus says, if you love me, you will keep my commandments. Do we trust Jesus on this? Do we trust that he is love and therefore knows of what he speaks? Do we trust that Jesus is life and therefore knows how it grows and becomes more abundant?
Every time we trust Jesus, our relationship deepens. Every time we trust Jesus on the big things, our relationship deepens substantially. And as our relationship with Jesus deepens, the road beneath our feet seems to become a little more solid, and the peace in our lives seems to become a little stronger. This is of course not to say that the road ahead becomes clearer. If the road ahead was clear, then we would not need hope.
So, in our Mass today, let’s pray about those areas in our life where perhaps we are less than trusting in God and his teachings. Let’s pray for the courage to hand these over in the offertory. Let’s pray for the peace to accept God’s commandments knowing that he wants us to have life and have it abundantly. And let’s pray that when this does happen, when we do experience the resurrection, that we keep such knowledge sacred, so that when others ask about the reasons for our hope, we can give them our firsthand testimony.