December 26, 2019
Blessing on you this Christmas season!
As is my custom, for the week between Christmas and New Years Day, I will be re-posting the Top 6 posts of the past year. Today I offer #6, a homily posted on August 11, 2019 entitled, Sure and Certain Hope…
Many of you know that my wife, Carol, has retired after working nearly 25 years at St. Pius X School and Bishop Chatard. On that topic, before I begin my homily, I’d like to answer some of the pressing questions I have been asked lately.
With a great deal of concern, people have asked, “How is Carol doing? Is she OK? Is she adjusting to retirement? Any regrets about retiring?”
Let me say this as clearly and emphatically as I can: I assure you, Carol is fine. Please do not spend another minute worrying about Carol and her adjustment to retirement. She has never once looked back. She sleeps well at night and does whatever she wants during the day – so yes, I think she’s “adjusting.”
As a matter of fact, in the history of retirement, I would dare say no one has adjusted more quickly and efficiently than my wife.
Please put your concerns about Carol aside – she is just fine.
Please allow me to process aloud in my homily this morning.
Several words have been bouncing around in my head of late: the phrase sure and certain and the words faith and hope.
I have had two profound experiences of death recently.
Two weeks ago, I was honored to be at a parishioner’s bedside when he died, losing his battle with cancer. I was able to pray a decade of the rosary with the family just moments before he passed away. There was an immediate emotional response to the death of course – crying, sadness. It was quickly replaced, however, with the sharing of beautiful memories, stories of Brian as a beloved husband, father, and sibling. I heard joy in the voices of family members as they spoke with unwavering faith and confidence about their loved one entering heaven. They expressed no doubt; they were sure and certain of this outcome.
In a homily I delivered back in early May, I mentioned Al. I described him as the wheelchair-bound, rough-around-the-edges son of my former next-door neighbor, Shirley. I cared for Shirley as she became physically unable to do many things around her home, eventually moving to a nursing home for full-time care. I shared with you how her son Al had taken up where Shirley left off. He expected me, in no uncertain terms, to take him to appointments, pick up his prescriptions, and bring him his groceries as directed.
I also shared that there had been a breakthrough with Al. He was softening. He decided he wanted Jesus in his life and asked my help in making that happen. We decided we would study scripture together. He didn’t have a bible, so I brought mine when we met.
This past Wednesday, Al died of a heart attack while making himself dinner. As we heard in today’s gospel, You must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.
I had the difficult task of breaking the news to his mom, 86-year-old Shirley, at the nursing home. Much like the previously-mentioned death there was the initial crying and sadness. Then Shirley began sharing stories of Al. Stories of Al growing up, the two of them running a business together, how tight the bond between them had always been. After spending time with her, I was preparing to leave when she said, “I hope Al is in heaven.” I responded, “My hope is in the resurrection and that was Al’s hope too.” I added, “I think he made it.”
You would have to know Shirley to really appreciate this, but she said, “I’m gonna say some extra prayers just in case.”
For me, the first sentence in today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews helped shed light on these two recent deaths.
We heard this: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Again: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. I was captivated by this sentence when I read it for the first time. I read it over and over again and found such beauty in it but was unsure why.
I almost didn’t include it in my homily because it was so challenging to wrap my mind around. My brain was suddenly flooded with questions. Are faith and hope even compatible? If I have faith, true faith, is hope necessary? Doesn’t hope imply at least some level of doubt? Should someone of strong faith have hope in the resurrection? That’s what I told Shirley – I used those exact words: “My hope is in the resurrection.” Shouldn’t my faith make our resurrection sure and certain?
There are those words: sure and certain, faith, hope.
To muddy the waters even further, these are the words the celebrant says at the end of a funeral Mass. It is the prayer of commendation: “Into your hands, Father of mercies, we commend our brother, in the sure and certain hope, that together with all who have died in Christ, he will rise with Him on the last day.”
There it is again: “…in the sure and certain hope” of the resurrection. Is using “sure and certain” alongside “hope” appropriate?
I decided to turn to someone much older and somewhat wiser, and contacted Fr. Jim. I was sure and certain that if our pastor didn’t know the answer, he would make something up for me.
His response was actually quite insightful and helped clear my muddled thoughts.
These were his words: “Think of it this way. I’m not sure and certain of the resurrection. It is my hope that is sure and certain. A practical example: I have a sure and certain hope of getting a job because the interview went so well. I am not sure and certain that I will get the job, but my hope is sure and certain based on my experience with the interview.
Sometimes we speak of having a faint hope. This signifies that we might be overwhelmed by doubt or lack of faith – the hope is not strong.
To say “sure and certain hope” indicates our hope is very strong. It is so strong that it has helped me overcome my doubts.”
And here is my favorite line from his response: “A sure and certain hope crushes any temptation to despair.”
Back to Hebrews: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. Faith allows us to consider the evidence that our life experiences offer. I am not scientifically able to prove that I have seen, touched, or heard God. However, I have the sure and certain hope that when I saw the sunrise this morning, it was God’s handiwork. I have the sure and certain hope that when I held Shirley’s hand, God was holding mine. I have the sure and certain hope that when I heard Brian’s last breath, it was God whispering that the resurrection is real.
The fruits of faith are realized when what we hope for is attained.
As for Al, I remember the tears in his eyes when he told me he wanted a relationship with Jesus. I heard Shirley tell me that Al was a good son and a good man. On Friday, two days after his death, I walked through his apartment. Sitting on the arm of his favorite chair was a brand-new bible he had apparently ordered online. I know in my heart he intended to use it.
I have a sure and certain hope in his resurrection.