Joseph said to his brothers: "I am about to die. God will surely take care of you and lead you out of this land to the land that he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."
The Author of the Letter to the Hebrews, recalled passages like this one in Chapter 11:
All these died in faith. They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.
Perhaps he was thinking specifically of the Patriarch Joseph when he added,
If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.Some inquisitive child must have asked why Joseph, a powerful Egyptian administrator, didn't use his influence to lead his family with his father Jacob back to Palestine when the famine ended. Did they not have the opportunity to return? Only the Christian theologian could answer the question that stumped the historian.
Ours is a religion of promise and it's had a palpable influence on our American experiment. I was told as a child that Europeans traveled to North America in search of opportunity and a better life. Some immigrants prospered, many died in poverty, but all hoped that their children would have a better life.
It's become a commonplace today that children of the Boom Generation cannot expect a better life. American prosperity has passed; our culture is failing; and our influence waning. Everyone is welcome to blame whomever they choose for that situation. As a childless celibate I am not especially troubled by the problem.
As an American Franciscan priest, I ask myself, "What future blessing do I see and greet from afar? What do I hope for but do not expect to see in my lifetime?"
I was barely a teenager when the bishops of the western Roman Church met with eastern Orthodox patriarchs at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Entering theology I heard knowledgeable professors say this council was one of the two or three most important in the history of the church. Its scope was wide and its ambition deep. Not only did it renew and revitalize the worship of the Church, it initiated a process of reuniting east and west, and Protestant and Catholic; even as it addressed the challenging issues of north and south. (The old northern church of Europe was fading even as the southern church of Africa and South America was beginning to flourish.)
Fifty years later, in the last decades of my career, I am not disappointed with the reforms. I understand better than I did then, how difficult it is to renew and revitalize a religion. The best is yet to come. Every time I read the Eucharistic Prayer -- choosing one from among nine options -- I try to enunciate each syllable so that God's people will remain as rapt as I am in the prayer. If I cannot see, I can hear the coming Kingdom of God in those words.
There is no history without a future, nor is there hope. Many Americans are literally killing themselves because they can envision no future. Christians in general and Catholics in particular must separate themselves from the culture of death which invests in suicide, abortion and warfare to ensure a bleak joyless future. We see a bright future when the Church will breathe with both lungs as she announces the Good News to all peoples and every age.