25 Apr April 2022 Reflection – Michael McFarland SJ
The Hope of New Life
As part of our just-concluded Lenten Retreat, Fr. Danny Huang, SJ, former Provincial of the Philippines and President of the Jesuit East Asia Conference, who now teaches at the Gregorian University, offered an inspiring reflection on the Resurrection. In it he quoted the famous preacher and translator Eugene Peterson, who said, “We underestimate God and we overestimate evil. We don’t see what God is doing, so we conclude that He is doing nothing. We see everything evil is doing, so we think it is in control of everything.” It is easy to fall into that mindset, especially today, as we experience so much suffering, death, outrage and conflict from war, disease, injustice, abuse and social discord. The Easter message is an antidote to that attitude. Jesus Christ, the Son of God became fully human, confronted the full force of evil in the world and absorbed its hatred, envy and violence to the point of death. Yet by God’s power, he emerged from that battle fully alive and gloriously triumphant. Moreover, he promised that anyone who trusted in him would share in his victory.
Evil certainly has its day, as it did in the life of Christ; but we have the assurance that God is at work in our world and will ultimately defeat evil, bringing vindication to the faithful. That allows us to live in hope, which means, as Fr. Huang pointed out, not a naïve optimism, but “the courage to love,” that is, a commitment to doing what is right and caring for others, even when all seems lost. The model he offered was the women in the Gospel accounts of the Passion and Resurrection. When faced with the devastating experience of seeing Jesus and everything he stood for destroyed by the secular and religious powers whom the challenged, which caused even his chosen disciples to flee in panic, the women maintained their loving devotion, following Jesus all the way to the cross and even beyond that to the tomb. As a result, they were the first to see his glorious triumph and were commissioned as his messengers, his apostles, to bring the good news to the others. We too become his apostles as we follow Him with love and devotion, no matter how powerful the opposition may seem.
A brilliant example of this was the life of Fr. Drew Christiansen, SJ, who tragically passed away from ill health just before Easter. As a scholar, ethicist, activist and diplomat in international affairs, Fr. Christiansen was deeply involved in some of the most daunting issues facing humanity over the last half century, including nuclear disarmament and conflict in the Middle East. Yet as intractable as these problems seemed, he never gave in to discouragement, despair or cynicism. Rather he always carried himself with what his fellow Jesuit and friend Fr. David Collins characterized as a “cheerfulness” that was a source of great joy and inspiration to all of us who were privileged to know him. In one of the tributes at Fr. Christiansen’s funeral, Fr. Michael Perry, OFM, former Minister General of the Franciscans, who worked with him on negotiations in the Middle East, put it this way:
I asked Drew his thoughts regarding the conditions and possibilities for the realization of a sustainable peace… Drew looked at me with a sparkle in his eye, and a slight smile and said: “Peace is a gift from God.” He quickly added: “But God never acts alone! It all depends on what each of the parties is willing to sacrifice in order for there to be any hope for peace”… At the end of our conversation, he reminded me that as people of faith, we must never stop believing that peace is possible, “even if it does not respect our timetable.”
As people of faith, we too must never stop believing.
Michael C McFarland, SJ
President, Gregorian University Foundation