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The road to hope

How do we deal with discouragement

On the Wednesday after Easter, the church frequently uses the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 24: 13-35. This is the story of dejected disciples leaving Jerusalem. They, seemingly, have witnessed the destruction of their hope as they saw Jesus dying on the cross. Shocked and in grief, they seek to leave Jerusalem and all their friends.

When we are disheartened and discouraged, in our anger and/or confusion, what do we do? The first thing we often do is to turn away from God. We say, “I prayed and prayed and nothing happened.” Therefore, we reason, “God isn’t there; or God doesn’t care.” We are severely disillusioned! Often we turn away from the source of life and from friends because our expectations weren’t met the way we expected or anticipated or believed.

One of the reasons the Holy Spirit inspired this event to be recorded in Scripture is to address our pain of dashed hopes and torn dreams. The disciples said, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Luke 24:21  They had followed Jesus for some time, had become fairly convinced that he was the Messiah, but when Jesus died, their hopes for earthly release from their enemies were dashed. “We had hoped,” they said! But now, Jesus is dead!  “Our hope is useless,” they reasoned. How did they express that sense of despair? They left the community that Jesus had formed, the people who had heard Jesus preach and had believed in what he taught. People often do that – in times of difficulty, they go back to the familiar. “We’re out of here,” as we would say today. How many of us do that? We were attracted by the Gospel at one point, maybe drawn to follow the Lord more closely. We had dreams of what we could do, accomplish for God, for his people. To be a good husband, a good wife, a mother, a father, a true friend, an educator, a missionary, a priest, a sister, an athlete, a scientist, a … there are so many dreams. What has happened to them? Why didn’t we follow through?

This Scripture shows us that even when our dreams and hopes meet a seemingly insurmountable road block, that it is never too big for God. He comes looking for us just as he did with the disciples. “What is this conversation that you are holding with one another as you walk?” These disciples were not seeking Jesus. They were angry and in pain because their hopes had been dashed. They had turned away from God, but God did not turn away from them! He pursued them and so he does with you. He meets us where we are. He comes to us even when we are running away from him. But the disciples were not easily convinced. “Our hope, the one in whom we trusted is dead now for three days. Women said they had seen him …” You can hear the turmoil, the confusion and their response is disbelief. He is dead. Hope is useless. (How many times do we turn away when we need to persevere; how many times does God pursue us and we don’t listen or recognize him?)

But Jesus does come to the disciples and he who is the Word speaks the word that gives life: “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken …”

 

Exercise:

Right now, as you sit in your chair reading this article, Jesus wants to come to you through his word. Wherever you are hopeless, have given up, can see no way through or out, God desires to impart hope that you are not alone, that he is with you and cares about your circumstances and will give you a way through or out of them if you put your trust in him. He shows us two ways to regain our hope:

1. Jesus explains the Scriptures to these disheartened disciples. (You say to yourself, “Why yes – if I had Jesus teaching me, it would be different!) God told us he would not leave us orphan, that he would give us the Holy Spirit to enlighten – just as he did those confused and bewildered followers of the first century. Read the Gospel passage slowly (Luke 24: 13-35) and, as you read, say to the Lord, “Enlighten my mind; help me understand the power of your word to comfort, to console, to challenge and convict me; give me the grace to apply your word to my current circumstances.” Yes, it is very good to read a good commentary, attend a Bible study, grow in your understanding of God’s word, but also, in faith, know that God who knows the number of hairs on your head is here to guide you. Sometimes he speaks through insight or through a conversation with a good friend or a pastor’s words or trusted counselors. Use all that God provides, especially when making major decisions. But first of all, God wants to increase your faith that he loves you, cares about you and wants to strengthen you in hope – sometimes, right in the middle of the storm. He will enlighten you through his word.

The disciples’ hope was based on earthly expectations – what the Messiah would do to free them from their earthly oppressors. But God’s plan was to lead them to put their faith in him, in who he was, in who he was for them. God’s goal was eternal life for them, union with the source of all hope. In your own life, look at your hopes and expectations. Are they based on God’s will, God’s plan for you? He wants more for you than you could ever hope for.

2. The second great grace that he gives to these downcast disciples is himself in the Eucharist. The day is far spent and Jesus appears to be leaving them. See Luke 24:28-29 What is happening here is that God is waiting for an invitation, to be invited to eat with them. That is true today as well. The Lord wants to be invited into our midst, our gathering of family or friends, and most especially at the banquet of his body and his blood. It is at the Eucharist, at the breaking of the bread that they recognize him for who he is –  their Messiah! “He is not dead.” “He is right here with us, now!” “He is risen.” What a shock that must have been. “Their eyes were opened.”  Suddenly, they knew the truth. Suddenly, it all made sense. They remembered too “Were not our hearts burning within us as he explained the Scriptures to us?” That is what God wants to do for you in the Eucharist – to have your eyes opened and to have your heart burning within you because of the truth and power of the Word and the Eucharist. God wants to give you the grace to see with the eyes of faith, to see the truth, the full truth and to be able to joyfully bow down and worship.

Bishop Fulton Sheen told the marvelous story of a young girl whose parish in China back in the 1950s was raided by enemy soldiers during Mass. The Eucharist was dashed to the floor.  Everyone scattered. Each night, this little girl would sneak into the church and take one host. (She had been taught in school that you could only receive once a day.) There were 32 hosts scattered from the ciborium and 31 nights little Li was able to safely consume a host – a total of 31 hosts. On the 32nd night, a noise wakened one of the sleeping guards and he shot and killed little Li. How strong is your faith? How strong is mine? What would I have done if I had been in similar circumstances? Bishop Sheen said that of all the people he had known in life – and many of them very famous – no one had inspired his life and faith as 12-year-old Li. Let us ask the Lord to increase our faith in the greatest gift God could ever give us – himself in the Eucharist.

Don’t be afraid to put your hope in him today, no matter you experienced in the past, to trust him today, to draw near to him that he might show you what is most important and how to embrace his will, with joy and hope.

Sister Ann Shields is a renowned author and a member of the Servants of God’s Love. Questions can be addressed to Sister Ann Shields, Renewal Ministries, 230 Collingwood, Suite 240, Ann Arbor, MI 48103.