Today we were very lucky to host the Radio 4 Sunday Service here in the Holy Name Manchester . It has a UK audience of 2.5 million, and is streamed live all over Europe, as well as being available to listen again for 7 days on the BBC Website. On the internet it is a global audience. Because it is live – the timings are very tight – so a couple of times my homily was shortened (I bet the students wish that a Radio 4 producer came to all our masses !) Here is the original homily I gave on the difference between optimism and hope.
The wonderful Choir rehearsing for the Radio 4 Broadcast
There is a profound difference between optimism and hope. Today is about hope – the feast of Christ the Universal King – He is the reason for our hope. Being around so many students here in Manchester fills me with optimism – their energy, their idealism, their passion. But optimism can be fragile – we can easily get sucked down into swamps of cynicism, or wallow in a culture that delights in mocking. We have just heard how they mocked Jesus on the cross ‘ If you are the King of the Jews save yourself’ Jesus is not the king of one ethnic group he is the universal King – In the midst of his suffering even the good thief senses this and rebukes them from his own cross – ‘Have you no fear of God? – and his reward is the promise of Jesus the King of Heaven – ‘ Today you will be with me in paradise’. Can you imagine how the good thief’s heart soared with Hope on hearing this unexpected promise? Hope is deeply rooted, Hope is more resilient than optimism, it doesn’t snap in the face of storms, nor does it wither away amidst hostility. Christian Hope is anchored in two places – firstly our belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, so we can hope in the face of inevitable death, we can even hope in the face of disaster. And secondly today we anticipate what the Catholic writer J.R.R Tolkien calls the ‘Return of the King’. That we look forward to Christ the King returning to bring about a new era of justice and peace for all people. When it seems that there is too much suffering and evil is flourishing, leaders are getting away with oppressing and killing their own people – belief in the return of Jesus is not just wishful thinking, delusional – but is a wellspring of hope.
As a university chaplain I see the potency of that hope every day. Here in Manchester, our chaplaincy family consist of students from all over the world. They come from so many different situations, and what unites them is their faith, sometimes in the face of terrible persecution. Last week a young man from Pakistan told me how his family home was burnt down 6 months ago in anti-Christian Riots, students from Nigeria tell me with pride about the courage of their families who are going to church today even though there is a continual threat of bombing, the faith and devotion of a student from Syria, who is trying to help her family in Damascus is a constant inspiration. These are intelligent, professional, scholars, many of them scientists who appear to have an unshakeable hope in their hearts.
Fr Williams Office turned into a live broadcast studio
A couple of years ago I was sent to the Philippines for my last year of training as a Jesuit. Part of that experience was to live in the shanty towns in Manila for a few weeks. The shanty town was very densely populated – with many people building houses on stilts out into Manila Bay. When I arrived they were recovering from a very strong typhoon that had destroyed many houses. It was a remarkable experience, to briefly share the lives of these people. Two things struck me – firstly how resilient they were. They did not have much – so in the typhoon they had not lost much, and as we helped them rebuild their houses there was great joy and freedom. Secondly how that resilience was rooted in faith and hope. This is so evident in the recent disaster in the Philippines. It is has been remarkable seeing how extended families have pulled together, we have seen this these weeks in Cebu and Leyte, how families have travelled to the disaster areas to help feed and rebuild their loved ones. The communities that are present and able to immediately provide that hope are not the politicians but the churches.
Here in Britain we need communities of hope – our students here in Manchester have started the first student-run foodbank in the country. It is needed because so many have lost the support of family – have no extended family they can turn. But the student community here gives them hope, when they have to choose between heating their homes and eating – it is our foodbank that they can turn to which helps them through a short-term crisis, without creating dependency and also signposting them to other voluntary support groups. And it is remarkable how much of this civil society is faith based. They are communities of hope.
We are called to build communities of hope, the church is called to take risks and we can’t just do it from the safety of the internet. There is a fascinating book by Sherry Turkle, an MIT Professor, called Alone Together – Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. So let us expect and give more to each other. Pope Francis is challenging us to get out of our digital bubbles, and also to stop hiding behind our ceremonies – and go out and spread our hope especially to the poor. He has said the Church that remains in the Sacristy gets sick. We are being challenged to become a church that carries the hope that is rooted in our hearts to the edges and margins of society. Are we up to that challenge?
You can hear the whole service by clicking on this link