By Fr. Michael Heine, OFM Conv.
Four years ago, two of my nephews began their college careers. Four years later they find themselves doing their last semester in their parents’ home and instead of the President of the University giving them their diploma, it will be a United States postal worker. Two of my other nephews began their 2020 college baseball season in February, dreaming of ending it in Omaha at the College World Series, only to find it stalled. Now, they’re playing catch with their Dads in their back yards. Our friar Bishop Gregory Hartmayer was named the Archbishop of Atlanta. A great honor for the Franciscan Order and our Province of Our Lady of Angels. Plans were made to hold the installation ceremony in the biggest Church in the Archdiocese due to the huge crowd expected and the limited number of seats in the local Cathedral. Those plans were put aside, and the new friar Archbishop was installed in an empty cathedral in front of nine other people.
Yes, we realize that life has changed, but not ended. Living rooms have been turned into gyms, dining rooms transformed into board rooms, the kitchen table has returned to its rightful place for schoolwork.
Stories like these of dashed expectations, hopes and dreams have been shared repeatedly during this time of Corona-virus. Proms canceled, weddings postponed or conducted on zoom, millions of jobs lost, families who didn’t even know what the inside of a food pantry looked like are now depending on what is being distributed to long lines of hungry people, mourners who are burying their loved ones at the graveside not able to offer a funeral Mass, and to make the experience even more painful, their loved ones not being able to be surrounded by loved ones at their bedside due to visiting restrictions.
Lord, don’t you even care, do you not understand? Do you even know what is taking place these days in our world?
As we continue to walk along the road hoping to make it to the other side of the Coronavirus journey, we may begin to lose hope. Depression, anxiety, and frustration to name just a few, may seep into our lives. Heading out on a journey without hope is like wandering around aimlessly, there is no destination if there is no hope. We certainly recognize our own temptation to hopelessness in this moment right now. When will it end? Will we ever get a vaccine so we can go back to work, travel, gather with family and friends, and attend Mass?
In the midst of looking downcast, the risen Jesus draws near to us and walks with us. Not in front of us or behind us but with us. Jesus, the one who did everything right during his life, performed mighty deeds, wonders and signs, suffered and was killed. That same Jesus understands our pain, our frustrations, our loneliness, our broken expectations and disappointments, our deaths. On this journey, The Risen One hears our questions and invites us to share our stories with him.
We tell stories, we tell lots of stories – posting them on Facebook or Snapchat, watching them on TV and ending the CBS Evening News as Nora O’Donnell shares a feel-good story of strength, survival and selflessness each night after a half hour of sad news. But the key to telling stories is not simply to tell them, but to pay attention to how we link our stories to the story of our faith. We link the ancient stories of our sacred scriptures to the experiences of our day as a key to finding meaning in this moment.
So, stories of the health care workers, hospital staff and other first responders remind us of Matthew 25 where Jesus states, “Whenever you did this for the least of mine you did this for me.” Or the stories of the Franciscan Center in Baltimore whose meals went from 300 per day to over 3,000, call to mind examples of the times Jesus’ love poured out in healing and feeding miracles. The teachers and parents whose computer skills may limp along but nonetheless creatively collaborate to keep their children from falling behind remind us of Jesus when he tells his disciples to “let the children come” to him.
Or stories of the unique ways people have found to share what they have, to make masks in a Dunkin’ Donuts or celebrate a life of a long-time parishioner, 100 years young, in our parish in Kensington, Connecticut by driving by her home in a parade of honking cars with Happy Birthday signs. Or those who break out of their comfort zones and reach out to those whose skin color is different, whose lifestyle is different, and who worship in a different way but whose faith reminds them of the hospitality shown to Jesus on the road to Emmaus and they break bread together – even 6-feet away and with masks. These are moments when listening and learning are valued above all else. Choosing what stories we tell and linking them to our sacred story reminds us of the hope we find in Christ’s presence.
We are people who live in hope. We believe because the love of God in Jesus has made “hope” part of our spiritual DNA from the foundation of the world. Jesus walked among us to not only offer – but to remind – us of the hope we have. Jesus risen from the dead walks among us, holds us by the hand, and helps us to recall that God raised him up, releasing him from the thrones of death. Because it was impossible for him to be held by it, we, too, participate in that death, burial and resurrection by our baptism!
There lies our hope – our faith and hope are in God! Today as you enter into private prayer, I invite you to reflect on the good news, those stories of hope, courage and compassion that you hear, some even in your own homes—and be reminded of the risen Jesus who has, and who will continue, to walk with us on our journey. †
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