Saturday, April 26, 2008

Disciples of Hope


“Beloved: Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” These words from the First Letter of Peter today seem to be very appropriate as a follow up to the incredible visit of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI to America last week.

As I’m sure all of you know Fr. Mike and I had the extraordinary opportunity last week to get tickets to both Papal Masses in New York – both the Saturday Mass for priests, deacons and religious at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and the Sunday Mass at Yankee Stadium. By the way, did you hear about the controversy at Yankee Stadium over what the Pope was going to wear? In the end, they let him wear his red shoes, but at Yankee Stadium, he was forbidden to wear his Red Sox! Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

The Mass at St. Patrick’s was, for me, the true highlight. It terms of Papal Masses, with only about 3,000 people present, it was intimate. What an incredible feeling it was to concelebrate the Holy Mass with thousands of priests, cardinals and bishops, with the Holy Father as our presider. Add to this the thousands who celebrated and watched the Mass on the streets of New York City, it was a great shining moment for the Church.

People always want to know how close you got to the Pope. Well, during the recessional, the Holy Father walked down the main aisle and then around down the side aisle where Fr. Mike and I were sitting. When he passed, he was no more than one or two feet from me. I, of course, had my camera ready and had to make a decision – do I take the picture or try and reach out and kiss his hand? Given the amount of Secret Service around him, I took the picture and it is a great, close up shot.

“Be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” How wonderfully this letter from St. Peter, the first Pope, ties in with the theme selected by Pope Benedict for this journey: “Christ Our Hope.” Most of us, I think followed this apostolic journey with great interest and hope was the over-arching theme and feeling. I think Pope Benedict, in this trip, really stood out on his own and took fully the reigns of the Papacy and I think surprised everyone when we saw what a kind, gentle, loving, compassionate, wise, holy and truly humble man of God, Shepherd of the Church, Vicar of Christ, he is.

Last Saturday, the Holy Father encouraged us with these words, “As a communion of pure love and infinite freedom, the Blessed Trinity constantly brings forth new life in the work of creation and redemption. The Church, as ‘a people made one by the unity of the Father, the Son and the Spirit,’ is called to proclaim the gift of life, to serve life, and to promote a culture of life…The proclamation of life, life in abundance, must be the heart of the new evangelization. For true life – our salvation – can only be found in the reconciliation, freedom and love which are God’s gracious gift. This is the message of hope we are called to proclaim and embody in a world where self-centeredness, greed, violence, and cynicism so often seem to choke the fragile growth of grace in people’s hearts. Saint Irenaeus, with great insight, understood that the command which Moses enjoined upon the people of Israel: ‘Choose life!’ was the ultimate reason for our obedience to all God’s commandments. Perhaps we have lost sight of this: in a society where the Church seems legalistic and ‘institutional’ to many people, our most urgent challenge is to communicate the joy born of faith and the experience of God’s love.”

“Be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” This is the reason for our hope – that God so loved the world, that He gave us His only Son! That God so loved us, that He called us to be holy and blameless in His sight; to be His children; to be His witnesses; to be His Disciples of Hope! My friends, this is our call – we are to embody in the way we live, in who we are, the hope promised us through our faith in Jesus. It should radiate from us into our world! We are called, commissioned in the prophetic words of our Holy Father to be Disciples of Hope!

A few years ago a group of salesmen went to a convention in Chicago. They had assured their wives that they would be home in plenty of time for Friday night’s dinner. In their rush through the airport, one of the men inadvertently kicked over a table which held a display of apples. Apples flew everywhere. Without stopping or looking back, they all managed to reach the plane, just in time. All but one. He told the others to go on without him and went back to where the apples were all over the floor. He was glad he did. The 16-year-old girl, the apple seller, was totally blind! She was softly crying, tears running down her cheeks, as she groped for her apples while the crowd swirling about her. The man knelt on the floor with her, gathered up the apples, put them back on the table and helped reorganize her display. He set aside the bruised and battered ones in a separate basket. When he had finished, he said to the girl, “Please take this $40 for the damage we did. Are you okay?” She nodded through her tears. He continued, “I hope we didn’t spoil your day too badly.” As the man started to walk away, the girl called out to him, “Mister....” He paused and turned to look back. She continued, “Are you Jesus?”

My friends, this is what following Jesus is all about. “Sanctify Christ as the Lord of your hearts.” To be a Christian, to be a disciple of hope, is to be another Christ; to radiate Christ. This is the message of our Holy Father and the challenge he places in our hands.

Let me end with a reflection that I read online of the Pope’s visit: “These have been amazing days, friends, and it became clear that, as in a miracle, the tide had, at long last, begun to turn. [The Pope] might be heading home tonight, but, church, our work is just beginning. It’s been said before but bears repeating: ‘the Holy Spirit is ready -- but the answer depends on us.’ It’s the call of our time, and the work of renewal is already underway in our midst. But it can only happen if each of us go ‘all in.’ Gratefully, it’s not a question of programs, budgets, committees or technologies. All it takes is just one word -- YES. It’s time, gang -- our time. All in, all together, let’s get to it.”

To quote the Holy Father one more time, he said, “As we give thanks for these precious past blessings, and look to the challenges of the future, let us implore from God the grace of a new Pentecost for the Church in America. May tongues of fire, combining burning love of God and neighbor with zeal for the spread of Christ’s Kingdom, descend on all present!”

May God give you peace and fill you with His hope.


  1. Fr. Tom, it is such a pleasure to meet you. A friend (and member of your parish) just gave me a hard copy of your blog from 4/18 to 4/27. You are both a fine priest and a fine writer. I hope someday to meet you in person.I have just started a blog that is not yet a month old,and I invite you to visit (
    ------A Danbury neighbor

  2. Fr. Tom, it sounds like your experience was amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    Check us out: Thanks!