Last week I reached a point of despair. See, I spend a lot of time on Facebook discussing religion and society with my high school and college friends, most of whom deeply disagree with me. But I do it anyway because I firmly believe that if I show them respect, and if I authentically try to learn from them, then they will also learn from me, and begin to warm up to the Catholic Church. Well, last week I posted something about sex and marriage, which is always controversial, and BOY did I hear about it. Very little positive response and a whole lot of anger, even from people who still go to church. So I despaired. I questioned why I was doing this, and whether I was ever going to have any effect at all, and whether the end result was just going to be me being miserable and having no friends.
Now, I am telling you this because we all experience despair, sometimes about our families, sometimes about our jobs, sometimes about our faith, and sometimes about the world in general. We wonder if anything we are doing will ever matter or meet with success.
Thankfully, today’s readings center on the antidote to despair, which is the theological virtue of hope. Put most simply, hope is trusting that God’s promises will be fulfilled. When God promises something, we can either believe him, or we can distrust him. The choice to believe him is called hope, and the choice to distrust him leads to despair.
And I assure you, we can trust him. That’s what the reading from Isaiah is all about:
“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.”
God will never forget us. God will always fulfill his promises.
So what are God’s promises? First and most importantly for us Christians are the promise of resurrection from the dead and the promise of the Holy Spirit. We are also promised that whatever we sacrifice for Jesus we will receive back one-hundred-fold, we are promised that when we are persecuted Jesus will give us the words to speak, and we are promised here in today’s Gospel that God will take care of us, even our earthly needs.
Of course, God is always faithful and trustworthy, but he does ask for some effort on our part. Jesus tells us what we must do to ensure that these promises are fulfilled in our lives:
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.”
What does that mean? It means that if we focus on what God has asked us to do, then God will take care of everything else. God will fulfill his promises.
Psalm 37, which is worth reading in full, puts this another way:
“Neither in my youth, nor now in old age have I seen the righteous one abandoned or his offspring begging for bread. All day long he is gracious and lends, and his offspring become a blessing.”
My friends, I find this incredibly consoling, because I often feel so overwhelmed by things, big and small. I feel overwhelmed by our political divisions, I feel overwhelmed by how many people feel hurt by their faith or distant from their faith, by how many people have left the Church. Sometimes I even feel overwhelmed by regular, weekly tasks like writing a homily or doing my laundry. But when I get overwhelmed, I ask myself, what is the one thing that God is asking me to do right now? And then I do that thing. And what is the next thing that God is asking me to do right now? And then I do that thing, too. Sometimes that means having a conversation with the person in front of me, or continuing my dialogue on Facebook. Sometimes that means focusing on my duties to my job or to my family. But this is what it means to seek first the Kingdom of God and righteousness: to do the tasks that God has set before you, large or small. And if you do these things, these little things, one after the other, then you can absolutely hope in God. He will fulfill his promises. He will do his part.