Fridays are important to all the children of Abraham. For Jews, tonight marks the beginning of the sabbath and its rest, ushered in with joy and thanksgiving; for Muslims it is a day of prayer, and after the call to prayer has sounded, also a day of resting from work. For Christians it is a memorial of the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ, a reminder that we cannot save ourselves. For us too it is a day of joy and gladness, but it is a sober, plain joy, for it is lived in the shadow of the Cross. For all the children of Abraham this is a day of prayer. What might the world be if we all, individually and collectively, lived what we believe?
Many of you will have read this brief report of an attack on a school in north-eastern Nigeria, http://bbc.in/10Fq1G4. It is on page 5 of the BBC website, which in itself is a little shocking, but more shocking still is what the report reveals of human nature. That anyone could think it a good or Godly act to burn children alive as they slept, or to shoot them as they tried to escape, beggars belief. All this in the hope of creating an Islamic state in the north of Nigeria!
Inevitably, those who think in terms of violence and hatred will let rip with the usual diatribes against Islam; and, if one is honest, one may find oneself secretly agreeing with some of their condemnations. But note what I said about what the violence reveals about human nature. When I was much younger, a Jewish friend of mine, who had survived Buchenwald, said, very seriously, that what we all needed to learn was that the concentration camps and the death camps were not about what Nazis could do to Jews, but what human beings could do to one another. In other words, before we start pinning violence on to an ideology, we have to look at the hearts of those who embrace the ideology. The violence is already there. The ideology merely provides an ‘excuse’.
I find that a sobering thought. This morning, as we pray for the children and teacher killed in Mamudo, for their families and those who are in shock, let us also look at the violence in our own hearts and resolve to root it out. We have a choice. Let it be for life, not death.
Although this subject will stir up strong feelings, please remember that this blog is NOT the place to express hatred or violence. Comments that fail to abide by the standards of courtesy and mutual respect will not be tolerated.
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O King of the Nations for whom they long, the corner-stone who makes of both one, come and deliver man whom you made from clay.
Here are a few scripture texts to ponder before listening to the antiphon: Isaiah 9.7; Isaiah 2.4; Isaiah 28.16; Haggai 2.8; Ephesians 2.14; Genesis 2.7
We live in a world where ‘authority’ is conferred by the search engines or the ratings agencies and many individuals chase after Twitter ‘followers’ or Facebook ‘friends’ as a form of personal validation. The idea of inherent authority is quite alien to lots of people, so the imagery of today’s antiphon needs working at.
Christ is presented to us as King: one who, in the Ancient World, had absolute power, an unassailable authority, but who, as a consequence, had an obligation equally serious toward his subjects, best expressed by the idea of covenant. We are not talking about someone unconcerned with our fate but someone involved in it.
It is, however, the next phrase of this antiphon that I find most striking. The translation doesn’t quite capture the force of desideratus. To invoke Christ as the Desired of All Nations is to make a strong claim for his universality. This title for the Messiah rests on the second chapter of Haggai, and the promise that the temple will be rebuilt: ‘I will shake the earth and the Desired of All Nations shall come and will fill this house with splendour’ (following the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew text). As though to say, there is in all of us, whether overtly religious or not, an impulse towards what is good and beautiful and true which will be gloriously fulfilled.
The reminder that we are divided among ourselves, needing a Saviour to redeem and reunite us, is hardly news, but so often we think salvation is some kind of self-help process we can achieve through myriad self-improvement projects. At a national/international level we rely on agreements and legislation which often fail at times of crisis. The truth is, with God everything is possible; without him, nothing is.
The antiphon ends with a reference to our creation from the dust of earth. It is full of hope. Who can forget that, according to the Christian understanding of things, our very humanity has been transformed:
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.
Jew and gentile have been made one through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. He has become the corner-stone because he alone can save, can breathe new life into those he has formed from the dust of earth. This Christmas we celebrate not just the birth of Christ but our own birth in Christ, our own glorious recreation.
Got back from the U.S.A. yesterday and have been fully occupied with catching-up: collecting Bro Duncan from the kennels and taking him straight to the vet’s (yes, I know), doing huge amounts of washing, skimming through post and emails (we had eight days with very little internet access), so it wasn’t until this morning that I had any time to think about President Abbas’s call to the U.N. for recognition of the State of Palestine and some of its implications for the seemingly-moribund Middle East peace process. I hope that Palestine will be recognised, and that Palestine and other Arab countries will, in turn, recognise Israel. Much will depend on the U.S. stance, but having read President Obama’s very pro-Israel address, I am rather doubtful.
Being doubtful, however, is not the same thing as being pessimistic. Human beings can, and do, cross the divides of religion, politics and culture. If we didn’t, we would be in a state of permanent war. Why am I hopeful, despite my doubts? A little incident will explain.
On Wednesday we were in the Rockerfeller Center in New York. Coming towards us was a Hasidic Jew. I expected him to pass us by. Two gentiles, and women at that (note my prejudices). On the contrary, he stopped, greeted us, and a short conversation in German, English and biblical Hebrew ensued, from which we learned that he was an Israeli rabbi, a doctor of psychology and a mystic who saw in Catholic contemplatives a couple of kindred spirits. That gives me hope. Peace processes and other big questions are ultimately resolved by the goodwill of individuals.