Sunday 12 June 2016

The heavenly Jerusalem

The celebration was a truly blessed moment - not only for the event itself, the ordination of our brother Salesians and Missionaries of Africa, but of the many people whose lives have crossed ours in these years - from Bishop William Shomali, to Abuna Munir, Piergiorgio, Laconi (and I think I saw also Sig. Raouf), to the White Fathers (Bill Russell, Leopold Vonck, Frans Bouwen, Jim...), Sr Monica, secretary at the Latin Patriarchate and Sr Naomi, secretary at the Custody of the Holy Land, Stephanie Saldana and Frederic Masson and their kids, Filipino friends from Rehovot, Tel Aviv, Agron, San Lorenzo, San Pedro Calungsod, and Notre Dame, our Geez rite young people and their chaplain, Edy Schopping, Mamma Yvonne and Vicky and their families, Dr Marcie Lenk, and the families of some of our young men.... It was a pleasure to see Abuna Sandy Habib too, who turned up the previous day, all the way from Gish.

To be there in St Ann's, and to think back, over Joaquim and Anne who are supposed to have lived there, with Mary... just outside one of the entrances to the Temple; and the Pool of Bethzatha where their grandson cured a paralytic who had been lying there for so many years and who had forgotten even whether he really wanted to be cured; the many centuries after that, including those when the church became a madrassa, and the Franciscans were permitted to enter once a year, on the birthday of Mary, and that too through a little window... and the restoration of the church again, later now, with the blessings of the French... the many generations of young salesians who have been ordained in this church, and the wonderful reality that is Jerusalem, despite the pain, the suffering, the anguish, the tension. "Do not forget Jerusalem," ended Bishop Shomali, after a wonderful homily in which he cited pope Francis bringing back 3 Muslim families to the Vatican with him from Lesbos: Mercy has no Boundaries. "If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither, let my tongue cleave to my mouth." Jerusalem, over which Jesus wept, and whose fate is so much bound up with his, in way that Rossi de Gasperis makes so wonderfully clear in his Sentieri di Vita, and which I find myself excited about and moved, but unable as yet to express, because probably it has not yet become mine....

I was pondering about eternal life, the life of the resurrection. Paco had difficulties about saying that Jesus lived already on earth the life of the resurrection. True, that has to be qualified, given the difference between his earthly existence and his glorious state. But the glory does break into the earthly existence, and he does live seeing the Father. Did he not say, Blessed the pure of heart, for they shall see God? He is the Pure of Heart, the Pure of Eye, who lives constantly the blessed vision of God. Which is the deep mystery of his celibacy "for the sake of the kingdom." His heart is completely filled with God - that it makes space for all of us without needing to cling to anyone.

Ratzinger does make the point that eternity breaks into time, resurrection into our earthly existence. That needs to be digested. If the glory of Jesus consisted in his loving, complete and trusting acceptance of the will of the Father, up to and at the point of a brutal and senseless death, then that glory breaks into his life lived in that kind of surrender, and in little and big ways it breaks into our lives when we live that surrender and love.

The peace of celebrating the Eucharist in St Anne's, surrounded by brothers and sisters whose lives one has crossed, even if briefly – is that not an anticipation of the joy that we hope to experience some day in its fullness? And, sometimes – the thought crosses the mind – what other will be that joy? – Yet Jesus did speak of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as living and alive, because God is not God of the dead but of the living... So they are alive, and there is a life in God that penetrates this life and surrounds and extends beyond it....

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