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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | Anchoring our hope in Christ

Groaning of the spirit is an appropriate response to problems, when we put our hope in Christ

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Fill in the blank on this Scripture verse — not by a Google search, but by how you would complete it in your own heart: “If we hope for what we do not see, we _______.”

How do we respond, when we hope for something that we don’t see happening?

In his Letter to the Romans, St. Paul talks about groaning within ourselves. We know what he means! We experienced it when the Cardinals lost the wild-card game. We experience it when something similar happens to our favorite football team. We experience it when we learn bad news about a friend or about something in the world. We groan within our spirit from the hurt. And the groaning also contains a hope for something different.

But what, exactly, do we hope? That’s where we need to pause and ponder carefully, to make sure our hope is rooted in Christ.

Often, these days, we hope that “everyone will come to think like me.” This often gives rise to anger and frustration — because people don’t end up thinking like me. That kind of anger and frustration isn’t a fruit of the Spirit, which is a sign that the hope wasn’t rooted in Christ to begin with.

Or maybe we hope that, if we can just get the right systems in place or the right people in office, all the problems of the world will go away. This usually leads to despair — and sometimes even violence — because the problems or the world stubbornly persist. Despair and violence aren’t fruits of the Spirit — another sign that the hope wasn’t rooted in Christ to begin with.

Maybe we hope that the moral world will progress the way technology does. Then we get discouraged when it doesn’t because people can’t be changed the way things can be changed. There’s a law in physics that says things tend to run down, and the disorder of a system tends to increase with time. There’s a psychological and spiritual version of that for fallen humanity, too!

That’s why I like the approach of St. Patrick Center. It doesn’t exist to end homelessness — a noble but unlikely goal. St. Patrick Center exists so that each person and family who finds themselves facing homelessness can find a path back to stability. They’re careful, from the start, not to misplace their hope. And because they’re disciplined about their hope, they’re less likely to give in to anger, despair, discouragement and violence.

Make no mistake, there’s still groaning in the spirit! That groaning is an appropriate response to the problems of the world. But the groaning is coupled with hope, rather than cancelling out hope. That’s a sign of a hope that’s rooted in Christ.

Why am I spending so much time on hope?

Partly because St. Paul focuses on it in the readings this week. But partly, too, because we need to think carefully about hope as we begin our pastoral planning process. If we’re firmly rooted in Christ, then we’ll be able to groan and hope at the same time as we go through the process. If we misplace our hope at the start — and there are many ways to do that — then what we experience as we go through the process won’t be the fruit of the Spirit.

Our faith is in Christ, not the world. And we know how His life grows: from suffering to glory. Let’s anchor our hope in Him as we move forward.

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