33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
November 15, 2015
The National Academy of Sciences recently published the results of a study by economists from Princeton University which demonstrates that death rates among white Americans ages 45 to 54 is increasing dramatically, even as life expectancy among other identifiable groups increases. The majority of these seemingly untimely deaths are attributed to things other than “natural causes,” including drug and alcohol abuse and suicide. Simplifying this alarming and credible study, one might suggest that within this demographic grouping, there is an epidemic of hopelessness. These statistics are certainly tragic. But especially alarming is the possibility that “hopelessness” will metastasize, spreading down to and infecting our kids.
Close in time, the Pew Research Center published its study concerning attendance at religious services. This group suggests a “change in the religious landscape” in the U.S. Approximately 36% of those polled claimed that they attend church services at least once a week. That statistic holds for American Catholics and Sunday Mass attendance. All we need to do is look around our parish church on any given Sunday morning to know these numbers are right.
Is there a connection between these two studies, I wonder? Is there a connection between “epidemic hopelessness” and the reduced numbers of worshipers in our church services?
We Christians know this much for certain: We enjoy a “living hope, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1Peter1) This “living hope” means that no matter what is happening in our lives, we have every reason to believe that it will end well if it ends in Christ. This “living hope” enables us to walk through dark times guided by The Light of Christ, confident that Jesus’s ultimate sacrifice has ensured for us the happiest of endings…as individuals as well as humankind.
It seems that the question of just exactly when the end will come has always lingered on the minds of people, regardless of whether they enjoy a faith life or not. Possibly, that concern triggers hopelessness. For people without a “living hope,” the end is something to be feared. But, for Christians, “the end” does not evoke an image of endless darkness, but rather the Eternal Light of Christ…The infinite Glory of God. Still, “The End,” whether of our world as we know it or our individual lives, is something for which we must prepare. And, in many different ways, that has been the message of Mark’s Gospel, with which we began this liturgical year on the First Sunday of Advent 2014 and which we conclude this Sunday.
We must remember that, like all living things, “living hope” needs to be nourished, fed, and exercised in order to grow, develop, and mature. And so Jesus has given us the gift of the seven Sacraments, the Gospel AND ONE ANOTHER, so that our hope might sustain us. And the best news of all is that “living hope” is contagious. When we face the challenges of life with Christian hope, we can share our belief with others that “THE END” is, in reality, “THE NEW BEGINNING” of something wonderful that will never end. Let’s get out there and spread the hope!