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Healing through prayer

Mark 9: 14-29                                    Monday 20 February 2017

The Gospel today, in a funny sort of way, links in with the First Reading from Ecclesiasticus (1:1-10). The message is: human wisdom – don’t rely on it! It goes wrong. Divine wisdom, on the other hand, is something very special.

Mark’s gospel is a really fast moving gospel with exciting stories. What you need to know is that what happened just before this incident with the boy who seems to be suffering from what we might today call epilepsy or some sort of seizures, before this happened Jesus had been up the mountain – the Transfiguration has just happened. Peter, James and John were there with Him, and they saw Jesus transfigured. And as they come down the mountain together, they could hear all these people arguing.

Arguing. That’s a clue. Human wisdom! We have two by-elections this week haven’t we? Oh, how they argue, don’t they! Everyone is in disarray. ‘What shall we do next?’ ‘What should we do?’ Fake news. All this sort of stuff is just human wisdom gone beserk. Mad!

We need Divine Wisdom.

But there is a little parallel I just want to draw to your attention. Do you remember that last week Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do they say I am?” And a lot of people seemed to think that Jesus might be Moses, come back to lead the people to freedom. Clearly He wasn’t. Moses was present at the Transfiguration, proving two things: Jesus was not Moses; and it also proves that there is life after death. Moses was present at the Transfiguration, but he had been dead for a thousand years. Still alive, talking to Jesus.

Jesus, Peter, James and John come down the mountain to find the people in disarray.

A similar thing had happened to Moses. Do you remember? Moses went up the mountain to speak with God and receive the Commandments (Exodus 32). And then, as Moses comes down the mountain, there is a hubbub of people.

This was why people thought Jesus might be Moses, because what happened to Moses happened to Jesus. But there is a Divine Wisdom present with Jesus.

As Moses came down the mountain it turned out that the people had made themselves a Golden Calf. They had lost their faith. They had gone back to the old Egyptian ways they had had for generations, worshipping the Golden Calf. No good at all. Moses knew this would happen, because he had been warned by God what to expect.

As Jesus comes down the mountain He too, like Moses, already knows what is going to happen. He is coming down the mountain and there is a hubbub going on. It is very interesting to read the gospel and see what actually is going on – the sheer humanity of it all: the disciples, who had been left on their own whilst He was away with his ‘senior’ disciples, have been approached by the crowd asking if they can cure this boy. The remaining disciples have clearly been casting out demons before, but with this bot, it does not work. The reaction of the crowd? You can imagine the scene. ‘What a load of rubbish!’ ‘They’re con merchants!’ And then Jesus arrives. And the crowd sees Him and come over to Him. They’ve given up on the disciples – it is the crowd that Jesus addresses. It is as if the people are saying, ‘Well, we’re wasting our time with these useless disciples, let’s try the main man!’ And the scene is the same as when the people were in uproar as Moses came down the mountain. The people have lost their faith! But these people, the people talking to Jesus, although they may not realise it, are talking to Divine Wisdom.

And that Divine Wisdom says, ‘How long have I got to put up with you?’

Do remember this weekend Father Paul saying how Jesus was fully human, and it is human to get angry? Jesus doesn’t get so much angry as really frustrated. ‘How much longer have I got to put up with these people?’ And the sick boy’s father shouts out, ‘Help me! If you can do it, do it!’ Jesus says, ‘If I can? What do you mean, if I can? With faith you can do anything!’

Can you see how frustrated He is? Of course Jesus can heal him – He is God!

Can you imagine how desperate than man is for his son to be healed? After a lifetime, his son’s childhood, has been blighted by terrible things happening, having seizures and turns and all sorts.

Jesus heals him.

But the people’s faith is still wobbly. The crowd is shouting ‘What’s going on here?’ ‘He has killed him, he has killed him, he’s lying there.’ No. Jesus helps him stand up again.

On the way down the mountain after the Transfiguration Jesus had been talking to His disciples about the Resurrection, what was going happen. And here, at the bottom of the mountain with the crowd there is a hint of this again. Not a resurrection, but life being restored. Now, just imagine what St Peter, or James or John are thinking at this moment. They have just witnessed the Transfiguration and been told about the truth of resurrection. And the first thing that happens when they come into contact with ‘ordinary’ people again is a miracle, and what Jesus had been talking about happens!

So, don’t despair when we find in our lives that we end up arguing, and we get frustrated and angry. And the mob is shouting one thing and people don’t know what to do. This is what happens with humans.

The answer is to turn to Divine Wisdom. Which is what you are doing. You are in church at Mass. You are starting off the week the right way.

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Testing times in America

Monday 30 January 2017

Hebrews 11: 32 – 40

Chapter 11 of the Book of Hebrews is all about Faith. The part we have heard this morning if from towards the end of the letter, and it has a surprising ending. It starts by listing Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets. These are well known characters from history who the people receiving the Letter to the Hebrews would know about. From the Old Testament, most of them come from the period two hundred years before the birth of Jesus, during the Maccabean Revolt. Do you remember that? It was the Syrian-Greek Empire, the Seleucid Empire, that invaded the Holy Land. They took over The Temple and were deliberately sacrificing pigs in The Temple in order to wind up everyone. All sorts of blasphemous horrors were going on. People were being forced to eat pork – you may remember the stories from the Book of Maccabees. People were appalled by these events and there was an uprising. And the uprising was successful, the Jews re-took The Temple, they restored The Temple. Basically the Letter to the Hebrews was written for people – we think they might have been in Rome – written to Christians early on (it was one of the earliest letters) – and it was basically the Christians being encouraged to ‘keep the Faith…. It is going to get tough, things are getting nasty where you are, you are going to be placed in terrible dilemmas.

Now, how do we react to that situation where we are working under a regime which is not is not at all pleasant? What is someone to do? You. Keep. Faith. You keep the Faith.

And that is what the reading this morning ends on. An unusual note. They are talking about these heroes of the faith who have fought and won. Some have even been resurrected from the dead. It said,

‘These are all heroes of faith, but they did not receive what was promised…’

(that sounds like a double-cross doesn’t it!)

‘… since God had made provision to have something better, and they were not to reach perfection except with us.’

We are not talking about perfection in this world.

Father Paul was talking yesterday about purgatory. We are moving on to perfection, hopefully, rather rapidly. That doesn’t mean I want to die: but I do want to go to Purgatory when I die, and be purified. Those ‘heroes in faith’ are going on to something better that they did not know about. Remain true to the Faith!

I’ll just add an echo here on what is currently happening in the United States, with President Trump, a week after his inauguration, imposing restrictions on Moslem travellers. I dare to do this because of what Cardinal Timothy Dolan has been saying. He is the Cardinal Archbishop of New York and the Chair of the American Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Cardinal Dolan was at the Inauguration just over a week ago, saying a prayer. He was on the radio and I was listening to him yesterday. He has had a lot of flack for attending the Inauguration. Some people say he should not have taken part. He replies that he is a man of prayer, a public figure, and he says he will pray there for the public good. He said he also gets invited to other events by Mayor Cuomo of New York, who is in the other part. The Cardinal says that just because he attends events in a public capacity, that does not mean he necessarily agrees with everything said or done by those inviting him. He basically intimated that he does not like what is going on in the United States. And yesterday Cardinal Blase Cupich, the Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, also published a letter about what is happening in the United States and how it is very wrong.[1]

Can we just remember in our prayers those poor souls who are working to try and enforce the law in the United States. Of course there are people who have been detained and all sorts, but what about the poor officials – those people who are humble Christians doing their daily job. They didn’t want this, and are being told to do horrible things

The going can get tough.

Even in our own times, we must keep the Faith.

[1] https://www.archchicago.org/cardinal-cupich-s-statements accessed 30th January 2017

Melchizedek – man of mystery

Hebrew 5: 1-10                                 16 January 2017

I was talking last night to someone who is a Moslem, wanting to convert to Christianity, and last night I was talking to him about baptism. One of the things that came up in our conversation, the way it went, was that I found myself saying to him that the important thing is that we have, in Jesus Christ, God and man. If God is all-powerful, almighty and timeless, and everywhere, and all these wonderful things which are beyond our understanding, how much comfort we get from the fact that God has also become a man in Jesus Christ, because that means that Jesus has experienced the things we experience. Jesus is God. Is God frightened of anything? No. He is all-powerful – there is no need to be frightened. Jesus, as a man, was doubtless frightened. We know on the night before he was cruelly executed that he was terrified and frightened. Yet He offered Himself for us as that ultimate sacrifice. God, offering Himself, with human emotions. This is mind shattering, but tremendously reassuring, because as we heard this morning from the Letter to the Hebrews (echoed in Marks’s Gospel), that we have a Great High Priest who knows what it is like to be where we are.

In the first reading and in the psalm today that message kept coming through: ‘You are a priest forever, a priest like Melchizedek of old.’ This was a prophecy made in the Book of Genesis when a priest called Melchizedek appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to Abraham – our Father in Faith for the Jews, the Christians and the Moslems. What is it about Melchizedek? We hear it in our Eucharistic Prayers too, this reference to ‘Melchizedek, a priest of old.

The psalm was Psalm 110. That was written by King David a thousand years before Christ, and it contains a prophesy that the Messiah will indeed be forever ‘a priest of the order of Melchizedek’.

And then, less than 40 years after the Resurrection, this same phrase, ‘a priest after the order of Melchizedek’ is being quoted in today’s extract we heard from the Letter to the Hebrews (5:6-10).

Why all this interest in Melchizedek? Well, he is understood to be one of the characters in the Old Testament who points towards the New Testament, towards the coming Messiah. And from its earliest days, The Church, the Christians saw Melchizedek and his mysterious appearance to Abraham in the Book of Genesis (Chapter 14) as helping them to recognise that Jesus is the genuine Messiah. How?

Well….

  • The name Melchizedek itself means ‘King of righteousness’.
  • He is the King of Salem; and that city was later to be known as Jerusalem, the place where God’s Temple is to be found.
  • Very unusually for a king, Melchizedek has no family tree, and we know nothing of his descendants. He just appears at a moment in time. He is timeless.
  • And Melchizedek is not only a king, he is a priest, an intermediary between God and mankind.
  • As king and priest, Melchizedek received offerings from Abram, our ‘Father in Faith’, gifts of bread and wine and blesses God and Abram.

This is a clue, 2,000 years before Jesus, hidden in the Book of Genesis, a clue of what is to come. Once people knew Jesus and saw what He did in His ministry, it at last made sense.

It is two chapters later in the Letter to the Hebrews (7:1-19) where all these things are carefully explained. Not only is Melchizedek a sign of the Christ, but he also explains how Jesus is a priest, even though he is not from the traditional Levite line of hereditary Jewish priests.

And what all this adds up to is this: when the true Messiah comes, the Jews can expect there to be a very radical change to the priesthood. The Messiah will be a priest forever, and the priesthood will not be hereditary. And that means that the Laws of Judaism, with the arrival of the new priesthood of Christ, would change. As Jesus explained, you can’t patch old and new things together – what you need is “new skins for new wine”.

And indeed this is what happened. Within 30 years of the resurrection, the Temple had been destroyed; the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant – the covenant between Moses and God, came to an end. The old sacrifices had gone forever, having been replaced by the NEW covenant, the New Testament. And the arrival of the Church saw a new priesthood, a timeless priesthood. And the new priests were celebrating a new, timeless sacrament, called the Eucharist.

 

 

Saint Aelred of Rievaulx

12 January 2017

Today is the Feast of Saint Aelred of Rievaulx. Aelred was born on Hexham, a beautiful town in Northumbria. I like Northumbria: it’s a very holy place, with a lot of Christian history up there. Aelred was a bright young man. As a boy he went and worked as a page for the Scottish Royal Family. Being a page was the way people were trained into taking on higher responsibility. The King in Scotland (Aelred’s best friend became the King) wanted to make him a bishop; he did not want to be a bishop. When he was 24 he became a monk at the new Cistercian monastery Rievaulx in Yorkshire. By the end of his life he was the Abbot of Rievaulx and there were 300 monks working there.

Aelred was a great writer – he has been called ‘The English Saint Bernard’. He died when he was only 57, of kidney disease, on this day, 870 years ago.

Why is Aelred famous? Because he was a great writer. And one of the greatest books he wrote was on the subject of friendship. He examined friendship and what it meant. He said there are three kinds of friendship. Friendship cannot be just Christian Charity. Of course there is Christian Charity, when we respect other people… but it does not mean we have to like them! We love people, we treat them appropriately through Christian Charity; but it does not mean that we have to like them. That is just sometimes too hard, the chemistry isn’t right. The result of treating everyone the same is that you end up not having any friends! That is terrible! That’s a terrible irony – that you could be in a Christian community and not have any friends. It reaches its sort of summit when the abbot of a monastery is not expected to always be with the same monks: they would change who they were sitting next to every day so that there was no suggestion of favouritism. Well, OK… but even so, people would still have friends. And Aelred said that he had people that he really got on well with, they were his friends, and that’s the way life is. Aelred took as his example Our Lord Jesus who had His friend, who was John – ‘the beloved disciple’. Jesus just ‘clicked’ with him; it just ‘gelled’. That is the way it goes.

We sometimes find that don’t we? I sometimes think it seems more difficult for men – perhaps that is just me being a man and feeling sorry for myself – but I always get the impression that ladies have their own close circle of special friends. Very rarely, very occasionally (I can count them on the fingers of one hand … on the two fingers of one hand!) when I have come across another man where I just perfectly match and we really get on as soon as we meet; kindred spirits. Sadly, one of them died pretty young; and the other guy? Well, we’re both busy, married men and we are not particularly friends, but whenever I meet him we have a great time. That’s the way it is. And I don’t know why it is, it is just that we ‘click’.

Aelred said there are three kinds of friendship. Be aware of each kind:

The first kind is carnal friendship. Lustful eyes looking at beautiful bodies is what he called it. Well, this is in all of us, isn’t it? We just can’t seem to help it. Somewhere along the line that is just the way things are. We just need to control ourselves; there are ways of controlling ourselves. Pope Saint John-Paul II used to say, ‘You can look but do not lust.’ God has made beautiful things, and there is nothing wrong with that. But don’t lust. Respect.

The second kind of friendship you come across is worldly friendship. I’m sure we have all come across this. Saint Aelred said that this is about what you can get out of the friendship: people want something from you, and they will be friendly with you, won’t they. Have we sometimes felt betrayed? Someone is really friendly, you have something they want, or you can influence something, and you help them. And then you never hear from them again, even when they have benefited from your efforts. Not even a thank you, once they have got what they want. That’s sad. Disappointing, isn’t it. We fell let down by that sort of thing.

And then that final kind of friendship – spiritual friendship. The joy of being a kindred spirit. It is not a jealous friendship, where you look at someone you are friends with and because they are also friendly with other people you resent it. That is just childish. It is just the joy, the delight of being with someone you like being with. And there is nothing wrong with that.

The problem is that this can get overlaid with our hang-ups in society, and people think there are all sorts of other things going on: that is just the evil world – there you are. But there is spiritual friendship. And as I say, there was spiritual friendship between John and Jesus. It is a gift of God’s Grace.

I will end with Aelred’s prayer on friendship:

Pour into our hearts, O God,

the Holy Spirit’s gift of love,

that we clasping each the other’s hand,

may share the joy of friendship, human and divine.

And with your servant Aelred,

draw many to your community of love.

Through Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

 

Mark my words…

There are some things which would have remained unknown but for the person involved telling someone else; and often things in our lives can make a really big impression on us, but there is no way others would know about it unless we were to tell them. For example, I will never forget what my mother said to me on my wedding day. That morning, in a private, one-to-one conversation, she said, “I’ll never worry about you and Catherine, because you two are so much like me and your father.” (She was proved right, I think.) I remember that. I can picture her sitting there now.

And then there was the time when I was a police officer over in Kings Heath. It was Boxing Day. And it was snowing. And one of our middle-aged police officers had died unexpectedly during the night. I was a young sergeant, and I went with the Chief Inspector to visit the family. And I was tremendously moved and struck by what he did, and the way he did it; and I thought, ‘If ever I am in that situation and I am the person in charge, that is what I will do.’ I learnt from him by seeing what he did. (And that is indeed what happened later on in my career… a sad necessity).

Why do I mention these things? Well, it just so happens that this week we are having reading from the gospel of Mark. All the gospels contain stories like that – where people who have actually spoken to Jesus recount the conversation, and we know what Jesus said, word for word. This is tremendous testimony, evidence, witness, to the truth of the gospels. And this is what happens in Mark’s gospel a lot of the time.

I like Mark’s gospel. It was the first gospel to be written (although it comes second in the list of gospels in our tradition). It’s a very short gospel. When I have people who know nothing about Christianity, and I have to guide them towards becoming Christians because they want to convert, I use the Gospel of Mark. I give them a small paperback copy of Mark and say, ‘Here you are, here is something to read.’ That is what many of the early converts to Christianity did. It’s a really good read.

It was written by a man called Mark. But here’s something that’s a bit of Catholic trivia. Mark is not his Christian name, it’s his surname. It’s like calling something I have written ‘Rogerson’, not ‘Philip’. Mark is his surname. Interestingly, his first name was John. John Mark. According to Tradition he had a nickname ‘Colobodactulus Mark’ – that means ‘stubby fingered Mark’. You can picture that – he turns into a real person with a nickname. Fantastic!

And it is said that sometimes (not all the time) Mark acted as an interpreter for Saint Peter when Saint Peter was preaching. So tomorrow’s gospel, which is the story of Peter’s mother-in-law being cured of illness in the house opposite the synagogue we heard about this morning – how does Mark know that story? He knows that story from ‘the horse’s mouth’ – Peter could remember the incident. Peter could remember it distinctly: it was an amazing moment of miracle that happened. Peter remembered it, and he told the crowds that story, and Mark translated that story for him. Mark knew the script, and then he wrote it down. This does not mean that Mark’s Gospel is ‘The Gospel according to Saint Peter’ because there are other things in it, but Mark did work for Saint Peter and he did hear the stories directly. And he would have talked, no doubt, to Peter about Jesus. So Mark had a close relationship with Peter, and thereby with Jesus.

There are references to Mark in the Scriptures: he worked with Saint Paul; he fell out with Saint Paul – they had an argument and split up (ha! There’s nothing new in the Church. It is not unknown for people to disagree – although thankfully Paul and Mark came together again later.) It is said that Mark may have been the young man who was there when Jesus was arrested, who ran off completely naked when they tore his clothes off him trying to catch him.

Mark is a good gospel because it is very short. There are Latin words in there that suggest it was being written for the Christians in Rome. The content and circumstances suggest it was written after Peter had died. Again, that would make sense: if you know stories from someone you would want to write them down quick before you forget. We think Mark wrote it before 70AD, because it does not make any reference at all to the destruction of The Temple in Jerusalem.

Mark’s Gospel appeals to the Roman way of thinking. The other gospels have a lot of references to the Jewish Scriptures and the Prophets. There is only one reference to the Olds Testament Prophets in the Gospel of Mark (and that is in verse 2, a reference to Isaiah), otherwise, nothing – it is all sheer good commonsense – the way Romans would do it. It was not written to convince Jews with lots of Jewish historical, theological and philosophical references. Mark is simply a practical guide to being a Christian and living the Christian life.

It is action-packed. The word ‘immediately’ appears in Mark’s gospel forty times. It’s a page-turner. It’s like Eastenders. The drums go at the cliff-hanging end, and you want to turn over and find out what happens next. And that actually happened to me when I was instructing Chuan, a Chinese guy who came to me as a ‘blank canvas’ in terms of Christianity. I was running through the Gospel of Mark with him, and after a week he came back. I said, ‘How’s it going?’ He said, ‘It’s going very well, but we are looking forward to hearing the next installment for what happens next – because I have been telling the family and they want to know!’

Mark is that sort of book. So if you come across someone who needs an introduction to Christianity, Mark is your man!

Hanukkah and a New Year’s resolution

Mary, Mother of God                                                            1st January 2017        

Numbers 6:22-27                    Galatians 4:4-7                        Luke 2:16-21

Today is the eighth day of the Octave of Christmas – Christmas is such a fantastic event in the Church’s year that we celebrate Christmas Day and then for the next eight days up until today, a week later after Christmas Day. It is a solemnity every single day, the same prayers are said, the same glorious Mass as we had on Christmas Day, repeated for eight days.

I mention this because eight days is a significant thing for the Jews as well. I don’t know whether you know, but this year something special happened with the Jewish and Christian calendars: every year, round about this time of year, Jews celebrate the Feast of Hanukkah. It’s the remembrance of something that happened 200 years before Jesus was born. The Temple in Jerusalem had been taken over by invading Syrio-Greeks (the Seleucid Empire). They deliberately sacrificed pigs in the Temple. There was outrage; there was an uprising. The Jews recaptured the Temple. This story is told in the Bible in the Book of Maccabees.

Why do I mention it? Well the Jewish Festival of Hanukkah, that lasts eight days (the same as us Christians, that Solemnity, that Octave). Hanukkah varies in time each year, between the end of November and the end of December. This year, by coincidence – and it happens very rarely, the Jews have been celebrating Hanukkah, from Christmas Day to this day, the eight days of Hanukkah.

And it is an interesting Feast for the Jewish People. They remember what happened when they needed to purify the Temple after it had been desecrated by pagans – and the way they did that was to burn holy oil. But when they recaptured the Temple they could only find one day’s worth of oil. They lit the lamp: it should have gone out after a day. Miraculously, it kept burning for eight days. That is why they have special candlesticks to hold eight candles, called ‘menorah’ – you see Jews put these up in their windows; you will see down at Canon Hill Park there is a huge menorah with eight candles representing those eight days.

This special period of celebration for eight days is something we in the Christian faith have inherited from our Jewish cousins. Remember, of course, Jesus was a Jew. He would have remembered Hanukkah.

But the Feast of Hanukkah is very interesting for us because it shows that the Christian Church and the Jewish faith – obviously we spring from them – they ran along in parallel for a couple of hundred years (and this it why the period after Christ’s birth can be called the Common Era, ‘CE’). After Jesus was crucified things became increasingly tense between the Jews and Christians, but here is the interesting thing… the Jews lost their records of the history of the Maccabees. It was the Christians who still had original copies of the Books of Maccabees. [At the Reformation the Books of Maccabees were dropped by the reformed churches; but a Catholic Bible still has the two Books of Maccabees in it.] The Feast of Hanukkah is not found in the Tanakh, (what we might call the Old Testament) – it was established about 570 years after the actual events by the Rabbinic leaders (who had emerged amongst the Jews after the destruction of The Temple in 70AD). The Rabbis were able to consult the Christian record of events, those two Books of Maccabees, and using them they were able to formally established their Feast of Hanukkah in their writings, confirming what had, up to that time, been an unwritten Jewish practice and tradition. Isn’t that amazing?

Hanukkah is an interesting Festival for the Jews precisely because it does not have Biblical origins, and therefore the usual rules do not apply, like the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles, when they have really got to be strict about observing the rules. Those rules do not apply at this time of year, so the Jews are able to celebrate in public, they put the candles on show and they really enjoy themselves. That is our joint heritage with the Jews.

And we see in today’s readings, in today’s Feast of Mary, Mother of God, how Mary and Joseph were just the same as today’s observant Jews, obeying God and following Jewish tradition.

Mary and Joseph, a young couple, both devoutly religious, planning to get married; then she tells him that she is pregnant, and he knows that he is definitely not the father. And Mary says she was told by an angel, before she was even pregnant, that it will be a miracle pregnancy! If you were Joseph, would you believe that? And Mary also tells him that her elderly cousin Elizabeth is also six months pregnant      . And if you were Joseph, would you believe that?

Joseph was thinking about quietly ending their relationship when, after she was pregnant, he too sees an angel in a dream. He too is told to name the child Jesus.

It is one of the things that struck me over the readings leading up to Christmas and through Christmas, angels telling both Mary and Joseph INDEPENDENTLY things that they must do this… , ‘name the baby this; go in to exile’. All those sort of things.

What is it that made Joseph change his mind about leaving Mary quietly?

Well, Joseph is a man of faith; he had been given the gift of discernment through the Holy Spirit; AND he weighed up the evidence – he looked at what was going on around him, and he decides to do as he is told by the angels. And he takes Mary as his wife.

At the end of today’s Gospel there you will see Mary and Joseph are AGAIN being obedient:

‘On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.’

Why was Jesus’ name so important in the messages from the angel? Well, we know the name ‘Jesus’ means ‘Salvation; Emmanuel, ‘God is with us’. Yes, but it is to fulfill a prophecy, a prophecy made by Isaiah nearly 800 years before the child is born . Why does God have to fulfill a prophecy? It is:

  • in order to convince people like us that God is real;
  • it is also done to show us that indeed God does have a plan for the world and its people – that plan is working its way out, its way through;
  • and it is done to convince people like us, people like Joseph and people like Mary, to convince us that God does actually does get involved in what goes on in the world

 

So three question that I ask myself:

Do I believe in God?

YES

Do I believe in Jesus Christ, born 2,017 years ago?

YES

Will I, like Mary and Joseph, do as I’m told by God and his messengers?

YES, but NO… but YES, but NO….

My New Year’s resolution: To be like Mary and Joseph, I will try not to be a ‘pretend Christian’. I will do as I’m told by God.

 

We are Jewish, you know.

33rd SUNDAY                  Malachi 3: 13-20         Luke 21: 5-19                 13 November 2016

The first reading and the gospel for this Mass give us the message that this cruel world is going to come to an end, but that good people will receive justice and life from God. It is a very fitting theme for this weekend, when we particularly remember those who have served and died during wars. And that theme of justice and life has certainly made a big impression on me, for a special reason. And the reason is this:

I have only just returned from a visit to Jerusalem, where I was studying for ten days at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum. It’s a place where Israel preserves the memory of the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. Hitler undertook to completely destroy the Jews, God’s Chosen People, the very people who are our brothers and sisters in faith. They were the victims of a completely evil system. My time in Israel was an intensely moving experience, and I have come to understand a lot better the reasons, the horrors and the consequences of Hitler’s attempt to annihilate the Jews. And in 1948, for the first time in nearly 2,000 years, the Jews who had survived and managed to get to the Holy Land, set about establishing the modern Jewish State of Israel.

The terrible events of the 20th Century left many Jews struggling with unanswered questions. Why? Why did this happen? These are not new questions. The intensity of the horror between 1933 and 1945 was unprecedented, almost incomprehensible. Yet that first reading, from the Book of Malachi written about 450 years before the birth of Jesus, may help us to understand a little better.

Events 450 years before Christ had similarities to 1948. The Jews had just returned from exile, back to Israel, decades after being exiled from their homeland by cruel Babylonian tyrants. The Jews in the Book of Malachi were re-building their nation, but because of their dreadful experiences at the hands of tyrants, a lot of the people had given up practicing their Jewish faith.

Malachi tells us what they’re saying: “It’s useless to serve God, what’s the good of keeping his commands?” After The Holocaust, similar sentiments were again heard on the lips of many Jews.

Malachi goes on to say, “We have reached the point when we call the arrogant blessed”. So it was, centuries later, when those arrogant, obsessed Nazis, had mercilessly persecuted the Jews for 12 long, horrific years, with a complete and utter contempt for God. And those dying in the concentration camps often asked, ‘Where is God?’

But Malachi points out that, despite all the horrors and evil, God is very much aware of what is happening in the world. It is very difficult for us to explain properly, but God is always present.

I would like to simply read you a story I heard at the Holocaust Museum that highlighted to me the horrors of the Second World War, but also demonstrates the courage of so many ordinary soldiers, fighting their way through Europe to allow us to be free today.

It’s the story of a 15-year old Jewish woman called Gerta Weissmann – of how her ordinary, happy family life was destroyed when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. And how her life was saved in 1945 by an ordinary soldier from the United States of America.

In 1939 Gerta was brutally deported with other women from her village to work as forced labour in a factory in Czechoslovakia. Throughout, their treatment was harsh and inhumane, deliberately cruel. By 1945 many, many of Gerta’s friends had died of starvation and exhaustion. And at the end of it all, as defeat loomed for the Nazis, she was forced, together with the few surviving Jews, to go on a 300 mile ‘death march’ across Europe.

Liberation for Gerta came when US Army troops entered the Czech town of Volary in Southern Bohemia near the German border on 7 May 1945. The wicked guards ran off. Gerta was trying to get some water for her dying friends. This is what she said:

“My very clear view of freedom and liberation came that morning when I stood in this doorway of that abandoned factory. And I saw the car coming down the hill. And the reality of that came when I saw the white star on its hood and not the swastika. And there were two men in that car. One jumped out. I remember the awe, the disbelief in daylight to really see someone who fought for our freedom. For my ideals. And he looked like God to me.”

The soldier who jumped out was Kurt Klein. He said,

“I saw some skeletal figures trying to get some water from a handpump. But over on the other side, leaning against the wall next to the entrance to the building I saw a girl standing, and I decided to walk up to her. And I asked her in German and in English whether she spoke either language. And she answered me in German.”

This is what she said,

I knew what I had to say. And I said to him, “We are Jewish you know.” For a very long time, at least to me it seemed very long, he didn’t answer me. And then his own voice betrayed his emotion. He was wearing dark glasses, I couldn’t see his eyes.”

He said, “So am I.”

Then he said, “May I see the other ladies?”

Gerta was astonished. She described how it was a form of address she hadn’t heard for six years.

“I told him most of the girls were inside, they were too ill to walk. And he said to me, “won’t you come with me?” I didn’t know what he meant. So he held the door open for me and let me precede him. And that was the moment of restoration of humanity, of humaneness. Dignity of freedom.”

What Gerta didn’t know was that Kurt was a German, born in Walldorf, Baden-Wuertenberg. In 1937, when he was 17, his parents had sent him to the United States. His parents and family, just like Gerta’s family, were all murdered by the Nazis.

Kurt the refugee returned to Europe seven years later as a lieutenant in the United States Army.

On 18th June 1946 Gerta and Kurt got married in Paris. They settled in Buffalo, New York, and had three children together. They spent the rest of their lives trying to bring peace and reconciliation into the world by speaking and writing about their experiences of War.

Many, many didn’t survive that War. This weekend we remember them in our prayers.