Paul’s Christian Hope is Ours

11th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I repeat we are full of confidence, and would much rather be away from the body, and at home with the Lord. This being so, we make it our aim to please him whether we are with him or away from him.

        In the First Letter of St. Peter, the First of Apostles gives this command to all generations of Christians: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” But what is the hope of Christians? St. Paul very simply summarized Christian hope in these beautiful lines from 2nd Corinthians: to be at home with the Lord. That is Paul’s hope, and the hope of every man or woman who seriously professes to be a Christian. Our hope is to be “at home with the Lord.”
What else could it possibly mean to be a Christian than to have this hope of one day being “at home” with Christ? So intense is this desire of St. Paul, and so confident is his hope, that he is even willing to be separated for a time from his body to be with Christ. For, as Paul explains, while we are “at home” in the body, we are “away from” the Lord, that is, we are in exile from our true homeland. Paul wished that the second coming would take place while he is
in the body,” because he knows that man is not fully man without his body. But if that is not to be, then, because he intensely desires to be at last at home with the Lord, he will readily accept the temporary separation from his body until the resurrection.
The Christian is very much like the children of Abraham wandering in the world, finding no true homeland in this world and awaiting the homeland that God at last will give them. In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read these lines: “But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Heb. 11:16) The spiritual offspring of Abraham, who like him have no homeland in this world, are those who have been reborn in Christ. Unlike the natural descendants of Abraham who eventually were given a true homeland in this world, the spiritual descendants remain till the end of time dispersed throughout the world, perpetual exiles from their true and better homeland which is heaven.
Of course, Abraham’s natural offspring were also destined to be given this infinitely greater, spiritual homeland, and there was a mortal danger involved in their becoming totally attached to their earthly homeland. You will recall how Samuel greatly resisted the Israelites’ desire to have their own earthly king, for Samuel knew that there would be a deadly temptation for them to become like all other nations, and to confuse their temporary home, the earthly promised land, with the homeland that God had really destined for them. And this, indeed, turned out to be exactly the case. And so God grafted a wild branch, the branch of the gentiles, onto the vine of Israel, onto Christ, to make them jealous, and in this mysterious way He is one day going to bring them to that infinitely greater “promised land” which is not the fruit of human labor, but the pure gift of God in Christ.
The danger for us spiritual descendants of Abraham is much the same as it was for his natural offspring, that we will confuse our own temporary home and homeland for the infinitely greater heavenly homeland, where, at last, we will be at home with Christ. Paul was absolutely determined to keep his own hope fixed on that heavenly homeland, where Christ now sits at the right hand of the Father. Paul does so by keeping his heart fixed on Christ by charity, which makes him love the Lord more than even his own body and his citizenship in this world. Because Paul’s heart and hope are fixed on Christ and the heavenly homeland, because he so intensely desires to be truly “at home” with Christ, nothing in this world can shake his confidence: “we walk by faith… we are full of confidence.”

Christians who fall into the trap of making this world their true homeland may seem full of confidence, but only so long as nothing goes drastically wrong in their life in this world. In this country, we saw this earthly preoccupation and over-confidence among many Christians in the decade of the 90’s, with the booming economy in that decade and the over-confidence it generated among most Americans that war and poverty were things of the past people, until, things started going wrong again. Then we had the 9/11 catastrophe and a few years later the bursting of the economic bubble created by the wild decade-long speculation in the stock market and real estate. With the collapse of the good times, we were forced to discover anew just how fragile material prosperity is in this world.
We should actually thank God for this reality check which inevitably happens, in more or less dramatic ways, during each of our lives: the loss of one’s job, a sudden serious health problem, the death of a loved one, and so on. Sooner or later, these things make us see the uncertainty of this world in making us happy, and then, hopefully, we realize once again that man was not made for bread alone. Great confidence suddenly is changed into insecurity and fear of the future, fear for one’s life, fear of death, fear of suffering, fear of life itself.
It is all this that Paul says no longer bothers him in the least. Indeed in the midst of his very troubled life, he is full of confidence, for Paul’s hope, since becoming a Christian, was never again rooted in this world, but only in the greater homeland of heaven, and his one desire and one hope is simple: to be at home with Christ. Paul’s life was clearly not an easy one; he was terribly persecuted by pagans and by his fellow Israelites, and he was even rejected by some of his own Christian converts who ridiculed and slandered him. His life was constantly threatened by al kinds of dangers, and yet he is full of confidence and courage. He knows that he has but one judge, and thanks be to God, his judge, our judge, is the very one who died for his sins, Christ Jesus the Lord.
Moreover, Paul is also full of confidence because he leads his own life now by one absolute principle, “ to please him whether we are with him or away from him.” Even Paul’s special visions have ceased, and now he feels his exile from Christ all the more. But he is full of confidence because he has this one aim in his life, simply always to please him before whose tribunal he. Paul, will render an account of his life and of his ministry. No other human judgement means anything to Paul.
What a wonderful thing to have this total confidence in Christ, and it should be our confidence as well as Paul’s. But we must take care here that it is not a false confidence. It will be our reasonable confidence if, first of all, we refuse to locate our true citizenship in this world and consider ourselves exiles so long as we are away from the Lord. In this vision of faith, even death itself is gain, and not something to be feared, even though it is so utterly contrary to our natural desire to live in the body.
And secondly, this confidence of hope will reasonably be ours if we truly live our lives with that same single aim of St. Paul, that is, to do everything so as to please Him who has loved us unto death, in the firm hope that one day we shall be in our true home with Christ, in Christ. If we actually live our lives in this way, obeying His commandments based on our love of Christ, doing everything with the aim of pleasing him, we need not even fear the final judgement, for He who has loved us so much is to be our judge. He suffered everything for us, He died and rose again for us. How can we possibly doubt that He will at last bring us to where He is, as he firmly promised, so long as we are firmly true to Him?

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