Dear Parishioners and Visitors: please enjoy this guest column by John F. Craghan. —Msgr. Richard
To develop hope is to cultivate mystery. All too often, we are seduced into thinking that only the present counts. We are encouraged to believe that nothing can really be changed. We are constantly exhorted to hold that there is only one way to go—namely, the party line. We thereby become victims of despair. In such a debacle only hope can save us. But to develop hope is to cultivate mystery.
In the first reading, the exiles in Babylon had written off the Lord. They accepted what they believed to be their fate. For them the Lord could not do anything and, if he could, he was not interested—this was the party line of ancient Near Eastern theology. The prophet in Second Isaiah, however, countered with a message of hope: “Cry out, do not fear! Say to the cities of Judah: Here is your God!” (Isa 40:9). But it was a hope interwoven with mystery. Their ways were not God’s ways (55:8). God would again speak his creative Word. To respond to that Word, however, was to give God the liberty to act as he chooses. To develop hope is to cultivate mystery.
In the second reading, Paul refers to material creation that shares a certain solidarity with Christians. Because of Adam’s sin and all subsequent sin, creation has been frustrated (v. 20: “futility”). Yet although God cursed the earth (Gen 3:17), he offered creation the hope that it would be freed from the law of physical decay and share in the transforming experience of the Christian. Thus frustrated creation still groans but it groans in hope. The Christian possesses the Spirit but not perfectly; “first fruits” (v. 23) is not the entire harvest. Yet the presence of the Spirit is the basis for looking forward in hope to the final stage of glory. To develop hope is to cultivate mystery.
In the gospel, the disciples had begun to write Jesus off. Some were no longer walking with him. Jesus, however, responded to this situation by noting the natural agricultural process of failure and success. The mode of failure is readily explicable; the mode of success is rarely intelligible. Yet despite the obvious failures, God is at work. To hope is to let God work in his own mysterious fashion and not impose human restraints. To develop hope is to cultivate mystery.
There are countless ways in which we may develop hope and thereby cultivate mystery. Parents who refuse to calculate their children’s success merely in terms of academic record and personality point to another standard. Career people who refuse to accept the manipulative practices of big business as the only way to go testify to another dynamism. The sick and the dying who refuse to see their present pain as useless and worthless indicate another value system. All such people restore God’s liberty to give as he chooses to give. All such people attest that to develop hope is to cultivate mystery.
The Eucharist communicates this as well, reflecting Jesus’ anxiety before his death and communicating Jesus’ acceptance of the Father’s mysterious plan for him. All who share in the Eucharist confess that the paths, rocks, and thorns of Jesus’ passion and death are transformed into the abundant harvest of the resurrection. The Eucharist articulates a hope, but a hope based on God’s freedom to act. The Eucharist asserts that to develop hope is to cultivate mystery.
—John F. Craghan
John F. Craghan is professor emeritus of religious studies at St. Norbert College, De Pere, Wisconsin, and the author of Trust (Little Rock Scripture Study); The Gospels of the Weekday Lectionary; And the Life of the World to Come; Psalms for All Seasons; and I Was Ill and You Cared for Me (Liturgical Press).