The age in which we live has been called many things: “post-industrial age,” “information age,” “atomic age,” “computer age, ““space age,” “post-Christian age”, technological age,” “globalization age.”
Lately, one label was added---the “Age of Despair.” Certainly if we consider the economic recession TIME magazine even called America the “broke states)), the recent calamities, the specter of terrorism, war, revolutions, famine and pestilence, we find an increasing amount of pessimism. One evangelist swore, “I could hear the four horsemen of the Apocalypse galloping.”
There are many people in this “Age of Despair” who are overwhelmed by this feeling of hopelessness. A story is told of an overseas worker who received a text from his son in a Third World country. The letter said, “Dad, we’re in great need. Send money.” The father text back, “Son, I was just laid off from my job. No money to send. Tighten your belt.” The son replied, “Dad, send belt.”
Another story was about a desperate man who went atop a building to commit suicide. A policeman climbed up and tried to coax him out of it but he would not. Finally, the policeman said “Okay, let’s take ten minutes now. You take five minutes and tell me what’s wrong with the world and why you want to kill yourself. Then I’ll take five minutes and I tell you what is right with the world and why you should go on living.” After each had taken five minutes, they joined hands---and jumped off the building---together!
As the church of Jesus Christ and as followers of the risen Lord, what is our mission to the world in this Age of Despair? How are we to unleash the liberating power of the Gospel in such a way that people will have hope?
Anamnesis! That’s the word, a Greek word which means “memory.” It is the opposite of amnesia, the loss of memory. We are a people of memory, hopeful memory. Every time we eat the bread and drink the wine in Eucharist, we remember: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again! Because Jesus lives, we can face tomorrow!
As a people of memory, we are comforted by the radiant hope of the Christian faith. In the time of Jesus birth, the socio-political and economic conditions of Israel were intolerable. Fifty percent of the people were slaves; most of them were hungry. Those who had jobs were paying 50 percent of their income in taxes to Rome. There were constant rebellion and uprising mostly advocating abolition of exorbitant taxes. When Jesus was growing up, some two thousand Jewish men involved in rebellion were nailed to the cross, with the crosses strung along the road to Galilee.
At the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the apostles scattered in fear. After the resurrection, boldness returned and new hope emerged. The promised Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost and the early Church began to grow. But when the Church was rapidly advancing, persecutions of Christians followed. During the reign of Emperor Nero, thousands of Christians were executed, stoned to death, hanged on the cross, beheaded or fed to the lions. Yet when you read the New Testament, the Book of Acts, the Letters of Paul, of Peter, of James and the Book of Revelation, the whole New Testament is bursting with hope. “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice!” “Have no anxiety for anything but in everything by prayer and supplication, make you request known to God.”
The lives of the early Christians were harder and difficult than ours, but when we consider their behavior from the scriptures, they were filled with hope. What makes them incorrigibly hopeful despite their situations?
First, it was the quality of their faith. Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as the mustard seed, you can say to this mountain move and it will move.” The Book of Hebrews defined faith is” the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The early Christians looked to God as the source of life and the hope of the future. “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. “ In the midst of changes and chances in the world, God remains forever. God’s mercy, love and grace never change.
Second, it was their passion for mission. St. Paul reminded his student, Timothy: “preach the word, be urgent in season or out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, and be unfailing in your witness. Do the work of an evangelist.” Their passion for mission altered the life they lived and the relationships they created, there was the overflowing of the great love and because where there was great love, there were great miracles. Love is what the world needs in an age of despair because “perfect love casts our fear.”
Finally, it was the credibility of their witness to the world. They put to action was what Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before all people that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” The role of good works is to point to God in whom we live and move and have our being. Good works by Christians, with all good intentions are nothing unless they flow out of love (1 Corinthians 13). We have seen so many social actions aimed at alleviating the poor and the oppressed but poverty remains. We have seen progress in science and technology but human misery continues. Former revolutionaries turned reactionaries; former oppressed turned oppressors; generous givers experiencing “donor fatigue.” The Bible says, “Without God all who labor, labor in vain.”
The message of hope is divine-human cooperation. A story is told of a boy who found a piece of land full of weeds. Moved by a vision, he cleaned the ground, threw away the garbage, cultivated the soil and planted roses. As the roses grew and flowers bloom, it was a lovely sight. A priest passed by and said, “Young man, what a beautiful garden you and God have made.” The boy replied, “Thank you, Father, but you should have seen this place when it was left to God alone.”
God works through us. As the Body of Christ, we are hands, feet, mouths, ears, eyes of God. We are equipped and empowered by the Godhead, through the Holy Spirit to proclaim His saving work, advance His reign by loving God and serving our neighbor. The early Church proclaimed Christ in their own age of despair. We can use this memory of Christ’s resurrection in our own age of despair: “Because He lives, we can face tomorrow!”
(Excerpts from the message of the Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara at the EAM Chinese Convocation, in Los Angeles, California, 1.25.2010)