Two weeks ago we celebrated the feast day for Saint John Paul II. George Weigel wrote an extensive biography of the saint, prior to his death, which the author titled “Witness to Hope.” The life of Karol Wojtyla was just that, and still is, a witness to hope.
When we consider the struggles John Paul faced in life and the times where darkness was not only foreboding but encapsulating, he saw a light which led him, drove him and drew him through life. The light, of course, was Christ and in Christ John Paul found his hope.
In his youth, John Paul lost his mother and only brother at a young age. As a young man in Poland he, along with his fellow Poles, lived through the invasion and captivity of the Nazi regime. During these years his father died. John Paul lost many friends. He saw several of his Jewish friends hauled off in the Shoah. Hearing the call to the priesthood, he had to respond in secret, risking his life to pursue that call because the Nazis had outlawed seminaries. The communists took over after the Nazis were defeated and the darkness continued.
Not too long after he was elected Bishop of Rome he suffered an assassination attempt. Later in life we witnessed his sufferings due to Parkinson’s disease and the once robust and athletic man was crippled by it.
Any one of these challenges would tempt one to despair. Not John Paul — he was led by something greater than suffering, something greater than darkness, something greater than evil. He was led by Christ who was his hope.
The liturgy for this Sunday reminds us of the hope we have in Christ Jesus. God’s love for us is so strong that he takes on death, destroys its power and frees us for eternal life. In the Gospel passage, the Sadducees approach Jesus with a question regarding life after death. They were probably not sincere in their question since one of the key beliefs of a Sadducee was that there was no resurrection from the dead, as the evangelist notes in the passage.
Jesus answers them emphasizing that there is indeed a resurrection from the dead. He says: “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels; and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.”
Jesus tells us life will continue after death. His resurrection confirms and accomplishes this promise of life “for those who are deemed worthy.” By these words he urges, encourages and demands faithfulness.
God created us in love. He is faithful to us and calls us to faith. This faith underpins our hope. John Paul witnessed this faith and hope. So too the Maccabee brothers whose faithfulness is recalled in the first reading from the Second Book of Maccabees.
The brothers are arrested and tortured. The king tries to break them from their faith by violating the Mosaic law that forbade eating pork. In this passage four of the seven brothers are tortured and killed yet they remain full of hope in God’s faithfulness that they will live again and be raised. When the third brother is asked to put out his tongue and hands, probably to have them cut off by the torturers, he replies: “It was from heaven that I received these; for the sake of his laws I disdain them; from him I hope to receive them again.”
The brothers are full of hope despite the horrendous times in which they live where the power of evil seems unbridled.
We are living in hard times. Tenets of our faith are clearly rejected by the society in which we live. We witness the sufferings of many people in our own land and around the world. In the news media, we see people regularly dying as a result of terror or war. We might ask, “Where is our hope?”
We are reminded today that our hope lies in Christ Jesus. He is the light that leads us through darkness. The Te Deum, a traditional prayer of praise (used regularly in the Liturgy of the Hours), has a verse toward the end that succinctly expresses this faith and provides a prayer for these trying times:
“In you Lord is our hope…. And we shall never hope in vain.”
Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.