The Adoration of the Name of Jesus, El Greco, 1578-79
Chapter House, Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial, Spain [Wikipedia]
Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)
Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)
Jesus said to his disciples:
“But in those days, after that suffering,
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
In recent months refugees have been in the news almost daily, refugees from the Middle East and from Africa heading for Europe, Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh and Myanmar heading for other countries in Asia. For most of these people, many of whom have died in their efforts to find a better life, the words of Jesus in today's Gospel, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, are already in the past tense.
The Christians of Iraq and Syria, all of them Arabs and with 2,000 years of living the Christian faith behind them, are facing annihilation as a community because of the actions in recent years of ISIS/ISIL/IS. And the Christians of Iraq now face another blow. The Iraqi parliament recently passed a bill that would force some Christian children to become Muslims.
Jesus tells us in the Gospel, From the fig tree learn its lesson. He's using a simple example from nature that everyone in Israel would have understood. In Ireland, where I'm from, when we see the daffodils in bloom we know for sure that spring is here.
The young men in the photo above and the two girls in the photo below are from Kiribati, a republic in the Pacific that consists mostly of atolls and has a population of about 100,000, more than half of them Catholics.
The people singing joyfully in St Theresa's Church live on Christmas Island, Republic of Kiribati, which is different from Christmas Island, the Australian territory where many refugees are being held at present.
Fiji-based Columban Fr Frank Hoare recently visited Kiribati. He noted, Kiribati is full of children and young people as it is not unusual for couples to have ten or more children. They have a carefree energy for life.
Fr Hoare pointed out too that the leaders of the country have 'learned its lesson from the fig tree'. The Kiribati Government bought a property of some thousands of acres from the Anglican Church in Fiji for resettlement of people in the future. The President has said that the sea will cover Kiribati by the end of this century. Government officials have asked Australia and New Zealand to accept Kiribati people as permanent refugees. So global warming is not a matter of inconvenience and of changed conditions for the I Kiribati people. It is a matter of losing their homeland and being cast adrift to find shelter in different foreign countries. This would threaten the survival of their culture. This is one example of those causing least damage to the environment being made to suffer most because if it.
The leaders' fears are not without reason. The country is at sea-level, with no hills. The Guardian (London) carries a report as I write this on 13 November 2015, Collapsing Greenland glacier could raise sea levels by half a metre, say scientists. This could well mean that the children of the young people of Kiribati in the photos above will be born elsewhere, their homeland no longer existing.
The Christians of Iraq and Syria and the people of Kiribati will have many descendants but they will almost certainly be living in other countries. And like some of the churches in Syria and Iraq where the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass had been celebrated for centuries, in some cases nearly as far back as the time of the Apostles, St Theresa's Church on Christmas Island, Kiribati, will have no celebration of the birth of Christ, the feast that gave its name to the island, of his Resurrection, of Pentecost. There won't be any people around.
And there are the daily tragedies where for individuals the sun is darkened and the moon no longer gives its light.
The two girls in the photo in Kiribati are probably unaware of what may face them in the future. But the two girls in Aleppo know the experience of war and terror. Yet the parish priest of the Latin Catholic Parish of St Francis in Aleppo, Fr Ibrahim Alsabagh OFM, sees hope and finds Christians and Muslims Encountering God while waiting in line for a bucket of water.
Speaking at a meeting in Rimini, Italy, the Damascus-born Franciscan friar says, I am here to share the joy of the faith. He tells the people at the meeting, We are living in chaos and we are lacking everything. Alongside the real problem of security – his neighbourhood is controlled by the Syrian government but the Caliphate troops are just a short distance away – there is also the difficulty of getting hold of things due to rising costs and the scarcity of resources. But whenever a need is satisfied, we appreciate it more, even something as simple as a glass of water.
Father Ibrahim tells a story that reminds one of Jesus meeting the woman at the well - the parish happens to have a well. People queue for hours but despite this, nothing happens. Just cheery and smiling people waiting their turn. A Muslim approached me and whispered in my ear: ‘This is very strange, there is something great here among you. When I walk around the city, I see people fighting, almost killing each other over a bucket of water. But here it’s different.’ Speaking to everyone about Christ is difficult in the context in which we live. But it is through these small gestures of peace of heartfelt joy, of patience and humility that we manage to say so much to those who thirst for something great. A faith that is communicated not with grandiose speeches but simply by using the method Jesus taught us: ‘Come, follow me’.
This is the greatest wish of Father Ibrahim: We don’t know when it will all end, but it doesn’t matter when and how it will end. The important thing is to bear witness to Christ, only then will the political and humanitarian solution come. Bearing testimony to the Christian life by loving, forgiving and taking also into consideration the salvation of those who harm us.
Jesus tells us today, My words will not pass away. They live in the hearts of persons such as Father Ibrahim, in the hearts of the leaders of Kiribati, in the hearts of the young girls and the young men in Kiribati, in the hearts of the young girls in the midst of suffering Aleppo who live in the hope that there is something better.
May the words of Jesus live in the heart of each of us.