Reflection for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle B)
Faith is a vacillating virtue, rendering loyalty to be a deceptive one, depending on where hope lies.
If we are to misplace hope in the easy paths to self-fulfillment or in easy success, faith is assured in those who will direct us, and loyalty may border on a blind fanaticism. But on the other hand, if we are to properly place hope in the more difficult paths towards a shared justice and peace or in a hard-earned liberation, faith is precarious in those who will lead us, and loyalty may be lost to a violent rebellion.
The dilemma of a prophet almost seems to be a hopeless case. A prophet is expected to compassionately support a people’s hope for freedom, but is also expected to fearlessly preach their responsibility that comes with and for that freedom. A few may either be genuinely supportive or outspokenly resistant, but most people are waiting for events to unfold to see where the tides will turn. And if the gaining of freedom is not worth the price that people are willing to pay for it, then they are quickly persuaded to lynch their prophets. Unfortunately for prophets, the price is often too small.
That is why prophets who have chosen the unenviable lifetime task of shepherding a disobedient and stubborn flock from self-destruction, and of demanding loyalty from an indecisive people who cannot choose between the sweet wine of fleeting pleasures and indulgent self-gratification; and the bitter medicine of mutual responsibility and simple sharing, are almost always doomed to be ridiculed, overthrown or assassinated. Their bodies and memories of their selfless and courageous actions are fiercely burned to ashes, and are unceremoniously and disrespectfully blown away with the winds of oppression, never to be seen or heard from again. Only an enlightened Church standing within the coming kingdom of God, can serve as the indomitable defender of its fallen heroes.
There is nothing wrong in hoping to be free, but there is clearly something wrong in hoping to be free without social accountability. Freedom is not merely actualized in the actions of an individual, but in the broader actions of a community of individuals who are completely aware of what each must and must not do for the other: “I am free, not because of my sole efforts to be free, but because of the collaborative synergy of your efforts to make me free, and my efforts to make you free.” It is this freedom which we must hope for.
The human being is not only homo sapiens but also spes homini – the “everyday-person” who waits and hopes. We are creatures formed by the Spirit not only with the cerebral capabilities to know what, how and why the world is as it is, but with intrinsic expectations of a positively illuminated tomorrow. Simply said, the “everyday-person” will most likely desire to know that which gives and can give it hope, because it is in its underlying uniqueness, a being that hopes. Hope – perhaps more than sapience – is what makes us human. Hope is the bedrock that supports humanity in its continuous learning to persevere in its perilous living of life. When we lose hope, we lose the motivation to know and to continue to believe, because despair forces us to stare into the gloominess of an unfulfilling actuality. Hence, when we kill hope in ourselves or in others, we kill life.
Therefore, every community that seeks to be free must first be a community of life and a community of hope. A community that is sincerely attempting to understand life can be contextually defined through thorough reflections by itself on its own becoming. If it so endeavors to understand life, it will receive life and freedom and will likewise be enabled to give life and freedom, by establishing identity, harmony and solidarity as the underpinning of a social order of shared rights and responsibilities. Thus, the continuum of “building community” depends on every “everyday-person” being shaped by, but at the same time shaping others through community-relationships. But this cyclical movement of “building community” can only be realized through the careful and courageous mediation of one who is totally and unconditionally committed to nurturing a community of hope.
Only the Christ our Lord gives hope, and only his prophets can bring us to a life of freedom. He will destroy those who kill hope by perpetuating a life of bondage, and his prophets will rescue those so enslaved and distressed. They will mend their broken hearts and crushed spirits, while he delivers them to the heavenly legacy that endures forever.
In God and for his kingdom, we must never hope in vain.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.
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