Sunday, May 19, is the Fifth Sunday of Easter. Mass readings: Acts 14:21-27; Psalm 145:8-13; Revelation 21:1-5; John 13:31-35.
How easy it is to give up when we meet challenges; how hard it is to persevere! Pope Francis often speaks about the difficulty of a “throwaway culture” in which commitments seem little more than temporary and even people can be viewed as disposable if their needs weigh upon society. This problem, however, is far from new.
Anyone who studies salvation history as recorded in the Bible knows that the path of the Chosen People included suffering from the time of the Fall forward. The history of Israel is full of examples of men and women who did not give up when the odds seemed terribly against them. Abraham trusted God’s promise that he would be the father of many nations although he and Sarah had no children. Moses never relinquished the leadership of Israel no matter how many years the people complained against God and against him. Queen Esther fasted and prayed as she prepared to go before the king at the risk of her very life to plead for the lives of her people.
Paul and Barnabas echoed this great tradition of Israel in their preaching to the new Christians. In Acts, we read that they “exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, ‘It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God’” (Acts 14:22). The apostles did not just preach this truth. They lived it. The daunting list of Paul’s hardships borne for the sake of the Gospel in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28 goes far beyond the fatigue and stress that plague many of us.
Where do Christians find the strength to persevere in the face of hardships? Today’s Gospel begins with the chilling reality of the departure of Judas from the company of Jesus and the apostles. Cutting oneself off from Christ and from the community of believers leads to isolation and can even end in despair. Jesus, however, assures those who remain with him that the Father will glorify him, even though he has already three times predicted the sufferings he will undergo. In God’s glorification of his beloved Son is the pledge of our own hope for salvation.
In the Book of Revelation, John describes the new heaven and the new earth in which God “will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). The glimpse of the heavenly Jerusalem given to John sustained the early Christians who daily faced the possibility of martyrdom for their faithfulness to Christ.
If we too hope to persevere in living for Christ and in loving one another as he commanded, we need to keep alive the virtue of hope. Hope will always be challenged at moments of pain and suffering, but when we look to Christ crucified and risen, we find in him our greatest reason for hope. The God who made us and who saves us revealed in John’s vision, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). Even death cannot conquer his love for us. We have every reason to hope that no matter what difficulties may come, God will not abandon us. He will give us every grace we need and will bring us to the Kingdom where pain will be no more and joy will endure forever.
Dominican Sister Mary Madeline Todd is a member of the
of St. Cecilia Congregation in
She is assistant professor of theology at Aquinas College in Nashville
and also serves through retreats,
public speaking and writing.