A season of hope

The headstone is in St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Yonkers, New York. The family name is McCrudden, the maiden name of my grandmother on my mother’s side. My great-grandfather and great-grandmother are buried there — and their daughter who died of meningitis at the age of 10 in 1905.

My great-aunt, Catherine, and her husband, Ed, are there as well. I remember them. Ed liked his martinis dry at the annual family Christmas gatherings when I was a little kid.

Engraved at the bottom of the headstone under the names of the remembered is a request: “Say a Hail Mary.”

In Dante’s “The Divine Comedy,” the pilgrim through the afterlife is questioned by St. James on the meaning of the virtue of hope. “Hope is the sure expectancy of future bliss to be inherited — the holy fruit of God’s own grace and man’s precedent worth,” he answers.

We often confuse the Catholic understanding of the virtue of hope with the secular interpretation of the word. But hope shouldn’t be equated with a wish, like hoping for a good day at the office or that dinner comes out right.

Hope is firmness in faith that eternal life can be achieved because “Christ Is Risen!” Hope is far from a mere wish. It is at the heart of our faith. Christmas is joy. Easter is hope.

Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary was dying. They sent word to Jesus that he must come to Bethany. He told his apostles that Lazarus had already died, then said, “I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe. Let us go to him.”

When they arrived, Lazarus was already buried — four days in the tomb. Martha met Jesus. She told him he had arrived too late and even took him to task. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Jesus told her: “Your brother will rise.” And Martha responded that she knew he will rise on the “Day of Resurrection.” But then Jesus told her:

“I am the Resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

He asked her if she believed this. And she responded: “Yes, Lord, I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

They were joined by Mary, who was crying over the death of her brother. Jesus cried with her, then asked to be taken to the tomb.

He ordered the stone rolled back, and Martha said that it should not be done as the body, now corrupted after four days, would surely smell of death. Jesus said that he had promised her that she would see the glory of God, then prayed. He shouted: “Lazarus, come out!” Still wrapped in the burial cloths, Lazarus emerged alive. “Untie him,” Jesus said simply, “and let him go” (Jn 11:1-44).

St. Paul defined our hope: “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. ... If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all” (1 Cor 15:17, 19).

Pope Benedict XVI, citing Zechariah, described believers as prisoners of hope. “The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life,” he wrote in his 2007 encyclical on the virtue, Spe Salvi (“On Christian Hope”).

Have a truly hopeful Easter season.

For the McCrudden family:

“Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

Amen.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.