In these days each morning at Mass I have been moved by the readings from the Letter to the Hebrews. Jesus our High Priest is the centerpiece of this masterful work from the New Testament. The writer tells us that Jesus learned “obedience from what he suffered” for us. He purchased our souls for God, and because of what Jesus did we have hope.
In our coastal New England area it is easy to visualize an anchor holding a ship fast, despite the strength of the wind or waves. Jesus is the anchor that gives us hope. No matter how much we may mess things up, we can always reach out for this anchor. The author of Hebrews says, “Hold fast to the hope that lies before us. This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm, which reaches into the interior, behind the veil where Jesus has entered on our behalf…”.
Jesus beckons us to trust, not to fear…to “hold fast.” We have to admit, however, that when we read the news, the stories on some days are close to apocalyptic: terrorists killing, maiming, kidnapping—downright scary stuff. On other days tales of greed and thievery and scandalous behavior seem to be the media’s soup du jour.
We have in this past week witnessed Pope Francis travelling to bring hope in Sri Lanka and the Philippines. You and I also, as Christians, are commissioned to be bearers of hope. But how do we strengthen our hope?
During this month while serving in one of our Pauline Book & Media Centers, I was able to share Jesus’ promise of hope and infinite mercy with families mourning over tragic losses. A couple of weeks ago, I assisted a father and his young teenage daughter. They were searching for something appropriate to memorialize Brendan, son and brother. In his mid-twenties, Brendan had died of a heroin overdose. Hearing Brendan’s story, I recalled another family who had lost a son and brother who was also named Brendan. Only days after having been released from prison, police had found Brendan’s lifeless body in an abandoned building surrounded by drug paraphernalia. Now both Brendans have gone to eternity. As I prayed for the souls of these young men, I also asked God to console the families they left behind.
Later that afternoon, a very devout middle-aged man asked for a book about Father Vincent Capodanno, a Maryknoll Missioner and US Navy chaplain who died in Vietnam in 1964 shielding a wounded medic from machine gun fire with his own body. Father Capodanno’s story is told in the book The Grunt Padre. The book was intended as a gift for this man’s brother, a Vietnam vet with post-traumatic stress disorder and an alcoholic. I promised I would pray to Father Capodanno for his brother, that this good priest would help release the veteran from his many troubles. Then the gentleman asked me if I would pray for his nephew Bryan. Bryan, in his mid-twenties, lay in a hospice facility preparing for death. Unlike the other three, Bryan was leaving this world surrounded by a supportive family.
When I go to chapel at the end of a long day, I pray for the many needs of those whom I've met in person and on the phone. It is in prayer before the Lord that I strengthen my hope; it is here also that I'm comforted by my hope. Blessed Paul VI assured us that it’s alright to multiply intentions when we pray. I take him at his word! I can offer an Our Father for the souls of those who died from violence or drugs; I can pray for more young men and women to answer the call to follow Jesus as priests, brothers and religious sisters; I can pray for a change in the hearts of abortion providers, of the drug pushers, of the people involved in human trafficking. As a Pauline media evangelizer I pray for the conversion of those who use printed media and the Internet for pornography. I offer prayers for my family, my Sisters in my community, for our chaplains, our bishops, and the list goes on. I know with absolute certainty that God does hear my prayers and yours for the countless intentions we offer.
Last week I accompanied one of our senior Sisters to a very busy Boston hospital. Despite the fiercely cold, overcast weather, a young door man greeted everyone with a beaming face. He is a Coptic Christian and for him it was Christmas Eve. For the stream of people jamming into the revolving door to escape the cold, his warm smile was a ray of sunshine. He was happy about the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and he was determined to share his joy with us. His contagious joy was a sign of hope to all around him.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans marched for life on January 22nd. Their sacrifice and their joy at the gift of life is another anchor of hope connecting us strongly with Jesus, our ultimate joy and hope.
On January 25th, we usually celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul (this year it is superseded by the celebration of the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time). It is a Feast dear to us as Daughters of St. Paul. May Paul’s face-to-face encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus help us all to grow ever closer to Jesus and to deepen our hope in him.
As Paul said to the Galatians,
he repeats also to us:
"[Jesus] loved me and gave himself for me!"
Because of this Love,
we all have hope in this life
for the life to come.
Sr. Mary Peter Martin, FSP