My children were playing in the next room. Michael, the oldest at 9, was preaching and teaching from the Bible. He posed this question to Elizabeth, a second-grader who is an eager learner, "What did you learn from this passage of Luke's Gospel?" (Yes, he really talks like that.) She gave a tremendously insightful response, which totally escapes me now. What stuck with me was Brian's response in 5-year-old honesty to the same question, "I didn't learn anything. I was barely listening."
How often have I been in the presence of Jesus, but was barely listening?
Did you ever meet someone who told you things you'd heard hundreds of times while "barely listening," but when he said them you finally listened and got it? That's how I felt when I heard The Truth, a talk by Father Larry Richards, pastor of St. Joseph Church/Bread of Life Community in Erie, Pennsylvania. As the son of police officers, an enthusiastic, powerful preacher, and a Steelers fan, Father Larry's down-to-earth humor and straightforward preaching touched my heart and revitalized my hope.
During his time in the seminary, Father Larry's spiritual director told him his purpose in his priestly ministry would be to tell people they are God's beloved sons and daughters. Through his priestly ministry and recent founding of The Reason for Our Hope Foundation, he hopes to tell 15 million people over the next year that they are God's beloved sons and daughters.
Father Larry poses this question, "Do you know Jesus, the reason for our hope?" Sure, most of us know about Jesus – we've heard the Scriptures, we've watched The Passion of The Christ, and we've been to Mass countless times throughout our lives. But do we honestly have a personal relationship with Jesus? For most, unfortunately, the answer is probably "not really." If not (and even if you do), Father Larry's website is a great place to foster your relationship with Jesus.
The Reason for Our Hope Foundation's website gives practical, multimedia resources to help all of us to hope in Jesus Christ. The site, which launched September 8, 2006, offers a variety of electronic features such as the daily scripture reflection "Hope for Today" as well as "Hope for this Week," video clips downloadable to iPod or Zen MP3 players, e-cards to invite others to hope and a "Hope Line" where viewers share their hope in Jesus Christ. If you register on the website (for free), you may access The Truth, as well as a guide for group discussion. In the two months the site has been active, the Online Prayer Intentions show worldwide response – requests have been posted from around the United States, Canada, Ireland, India and Scotland.
In The Truth, Father Larry says people shouldn't hear him giving the talks; they ought to see Him living inside Father Larry. While listening to the talk, I heard the voice of Christ – in Pittsburgh-ese. As Jesus Christ used parables to teach the Gospel, Father Larry uses personal stories – including a particularly moving one about his father – and re-told stories – like an account of two prisoners of war in a concentration camp – to bring The Truth alive. These stories included two of the most poignant lines of the talk – "I love you too, Dad" and "If Jesus Christ is anything like you, I can't wait to meet Him." The message is clear – we must tell the people we love that we love them, every day – and when we do, we will begin to be Jesus for a world that does not know hope.
But why name a foundation The Reason for Our Hope? Of the three theological virtues, hope seems to get the least attention. The phrases "your faith has healed you" and "the greatest of these is love" come to mind right away when I think of the theological virtues. Faith and love (charity) seem to elicit much more discussion than hope. Without hope, though, the other two virtues aren't truly alive in us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says this about hope:
When God reveals Himself and calls him, man cannot fully respond to the divine love by his own powers. He must hope that God will give him the capacity to love Him in return and to act in conformity with the commandments of charity. Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God; it is also the fear of offending God's love and incurring punishment (CCC 2090, emphasis added).
The Reason for Our Hope Foundation was founded by Father Larry in answer to the injunction of 1 Peter 3:15: "Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope."
Next time you are at Mass, be sure you're really listening just before Communion when the priest proclaims, "We wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ." Share your hope at the sign of peace. Receive hope through the Eucharist. Visit The Reason For Our Hope website.