August 7, 2009

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Hope in Christ nourishes us as we journey to God

We are a pilgrim people on a journey of hope.

When we were preparing for the Jubilee celebration of 2000, we chose the theme “Journey of Hope 2001.”

We emphasized that we are a pilgrim people, and that hope sustains us on our journey to God.

We are a pilgrim people because we are not satisfied with the way things are. We seek the face of the Lord. We long for communion with Christ and the joy of everlasting life.

In his encyclical letter “Spe Salvi” (“Saved by Hope”), Pope Benedict XVI tells us that Jesus is the source of our hope, a hope stronger than suffering or death.

“When the Letter to the Hebrews says that Christians here on Earth do not have a permanent homeland but seek one that lies in the future,” the Holy Father writes, “this does not mean for one moment that they live only for the future. Present society is recognized by Christians as an exile; they belong to a new society which is the goal of the common pilgrimage and which is anticipated by the course of that pilgrimage” (“Spe Salvi,” #4).

As pilgrims, we do not wander aimlessly. We have a goal: to enter the kingdom of God and to share in the beatific vision of heaven. We cannot accomplish this goal by our own efforts.

Success on our journey of hope is made possible only by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ given to us through his suffering, death and resurrection. This goal as a pilgrim people is also our mission as the Church: to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to be the seeds and the beginning of that kingdom here on Earth.

As disciples of Jesus, we are not satisfied with the way things are so we pray for the grace to change ourselves and the world in which we live according to God’s will. We are not comfortable with the status quo so we work to build a better world, the beginning of God’s kingdom here on Earth, in anticipation of the future fulfillment of God’s plan.

We are not lost as individuals or as a community of faith because we have been shown the way which is Christ. “I am the light of the world,” the Lord tells us. “He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12).

Each year during the Easter season, the Church celebrates Good Shepherd Sunday. The image of the Good Shepherd is a powerful symbol of the ministry of Jesus.

The pastoral ministry of Jesus has been expressed in Christian art in many different ways from the earliest days of Church history to the present. (“Pastor” is the Latin word for shepherd.) The Good Shepherd ministers to the deepest hopes and longings of his people. He is a true teacher—the one who shows us the way.

Pope Benedict reminds us that in Roman art “the shepherd was generally an expression of the dream of a tranquil and simple life for which the people, amid the confusion of the big cities, felt a certain longing” (“Spe Salvi,” #6). For Christians, the Holy Father tells us, the image of the Good Shepherd has a deeper meaning.

Quoting Psalm 23 (“The Lord is my shepherd …”), the Holy Father says, “the true shepherd is one who knows even the path that passes through the valley of death; one who walks with me even on the path of final solitude where no one can accompany me, guiding me through: He himself has walked this path, he has descended into the kingdom of death, he has conquered death, and he has returned to accompany us now and to give us the certainty that, together with him, we can find a way through” (“Spe Salvi,” #6).

The Good Shepherd is the source of our hope. “His rod and his staff comfort me” so that “I fear no evil” (Ps 23:4).

As we continue the pilgrimage that is our journey of hope, we can be confident that the Lord walks with us, slightly ahead of us, so he can show us the way.

The two greatest obstacles to our success, the Church teaches, are presumption and despair. We are guilty of presumption when we convince ourselves that we don’t need the grace of Christ, that we can reach our life’s goal all by ourselves. The sin of despair leads us in the opposite direction; it persuades us that our efforts are hopeless, that we will never reach our goal no matter what.

Christ assures us that if we follow him, and walk in his light, we will not give in to the false hope of presumption or to the darkness of despair.

May we follow him always. †

Local site Links: