In the Holy Land

In 05 Homilies by Fr. Reid on 2015/11/27 at 12:00 AM


Last Sunday while you were enjoying Fr. Julian Harris, I was spending time in the Holy Land. I was invited to go on this trip by an old friend who happens to be the P.R. Director of the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land.
Unlike my other trips to the Holy Land, which were pilgrimages to all of the holy sites, this time in addition to praying at the holy sites, I spent time meeting with Palestinians – both Christians and Muslims – to learn more about their plight.
Those of you who have been to the Holy Land know that it is one of the most fascinating places on earth – and certainly it’s a place that all Catholics should try to visit at least once during their lifetime.
Being in the land where Jesus lived and died and seeing all of the places connected to Him and to other biblical figures does so much to bring our faith alive and make it incarnate.
But for all the beauty and spiritual significance of the Holy Land, it is also one of the most tense and politically complicated places in the world. Particularly in Jerusalem, you can feel the tension that exists.
While I cannot pretend to fully understand all of the complexities in the relationships between the Israelis and Palestinians, what I do know is that there is much suffering amongst the people there – suffering that most likely will not be alleviated any time soon.
In speaking about this one of the people I met, Brother Peter Bray, who is the Vice Chancellor of Bethlehem University, said rather provocatively: “I am not optimistic that there will ever be peace in the Holy Land, but I am hopeful.”
Brother Peter’s point was that, if we look at the political situation between Israel and Palestine in purely human terms, there is no reason to be optimistic. But the virtue of hope gives us a different perspective, for the virtue of hope is rooted in God – not in man.
Truly, hope is a virtue that all Christians must cultivate, for it enables us to look at even the most hopeless of cases with the eyes of faith and see that with God, all things are possible.
And to their credit, I found the virtue of hope alive amongst Jews, Catholics and Muslims alike last week.
One day I was walking around the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem where I met an Israeli couple sightseeing with some friends from Denmark. And as we parted after a short conversation, the Israeli man remarked to me rather earnestly: “Father, let us pray and hope that we will have peace some day.” I was touched by his sincerity and good will.
Another time, I was talking to our driver, a Palestinian Muslim named Achmed, who is a descendant of one of the 5 original founding families of Jerusalem. As such, Achmed’s family owns a good bit of land around Jerusalem.
Yet, the most important piece of land they own is now controlled by Israelis in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and so even though he has papers proving his ownership, he effectively has no rights to the most valuable piece of his patrimony.
Yet Achmed has this luminescent hope that one day his family’s land will be returned to him, and if not to him, then to his children. His hope is a hope for justice, a hope that he will be able to pass on to his children a better life than he has enjoyed.
I could go on with more stories of the beautiful hope that I found amongst the good people I met, especially amongst the young Palestinian Catholic college students from Bethlehem who are digging in their heals to stay in the Holy Land, even while so many of their peers and so many Christians in general, are leaving the cradle of our faith.
What impressed me most, though, amongst so many of the people I met last week was this deep longing for things to be right: for peace and justice to reign, for the chance to live a life not marked by violence and strife. I was impressed by their profound hope.
What struck me is that this hope found amongst both Israelis and Palestinians for peace and justice in their land is quite symbolic of the hope we Christians should have for Heaven. Our lives on earth should be marked by this perpetual hope for the peace and justice of Heaven.
I bring this up because hope is precisely the virtue that our 1st reading and Gospel both call us to today. Both of these readings speak of the end times in rather frightening terms.
The prophet Malachi speaks of how the world will be cleansed of the proud and of evildoers by fire, while Jesus speaks in apocalyptic terms of the sufferings that must precede the end of the world and of the particular sufferings He and His followers must be willing to endure.
Yet for all the frightening aspects of these readings, the prophet Malachi tells us in very consoling terms: “But for you who fear [the Lord’s] name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”
Malachi tells us to fear the Lord, and so indeed we should, but not in a servile way as a slave fears his master. Rather the fear of the Lord we should have is a filial fear rooted in our respect and awe of God because He’s all-powerful.
But because God is all-powerful, we should also hope in Him! The fact that He is all- powerful should give us great hope!
In the same way, even though the Gospel today warns us of the sufferings that are to come, we mustn’t let our earthly sufferings deter us from our faith and hope in God.
Jesus tells us that He will be with us in our sufferings, but that “by [our] perseverance [we] will secure [our] lives.” And this perseverance isn’t just perseverance through the suffering; it is a perseverance in hope, always keeping our eyes on our Lord and trusting in His almighty power to save us.
Brothers and sisters, we are once again coming to end of the liturgical year in which Holy Mother Church turns our hearts and minds to contemplating the last things: death, judgment, Heaven and hell, as well as to the final confrontation between good and evil that will occur at the end of time.
As frightening as these things may be, we mustn’t fear them. Nor must we fear the sufferings of this present life, especially those sufferings we must endure in the practice of our faith and in our witness to our Lord.
Instead, we are called to hope. We are called to hope in the eternal reward of Heaven that our Lord promises to all of those who believe in Him, who trust in Him, and who love Him.
May we repent of our sins, pursue virtue, and spend our lives meditating on the beautiful mysteries of our Catholic faith. And may we persevere in hope.
With the psalmist, let us pray for the peace of Jerusalem in this life, so that all men may come to know the eternal peace of the new and heavenly Jerusalem. (Cf. Psalm 122.)

17 November 2013

© Reverend Timothy Reid

Fr. Reid is the pastor of St. Ann Catholic Church, Charlotte, NC

Homilies from June 17, 2012 onward have audio.
To enable the audio, lease go directly to Fr. Reid’s homily homilies and select the matching date.

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