A journalist heard about an old Rabbi who visited the Western Wall in Jerusalem to pray there twice a day, every day for over five decades. In an effort to check out the story and report on it, she went to the holy site and, sure enough, there he was. She watched the old man at prayer and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, she approached him for an interview. “I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN, sir. May I ask how long have you been coming to this Wailing Wall and praying?” “For about 50 years,” he replied. “That’s amazing! What do you pray for?” “I pray for peace between the Jews and Arabs. I pray for all the hatred to stop, and I pray for all of our children to grow up in safety and friendship.” “And how do you feel, sir, after doing this for 50 years?” “How do I feel? I feel like I’m talking to a ****** brick wall!”

The Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem is the only remains of the Temple that the Roman armies destroyed in 70 AD when they crushed a rebellion. It is a place of prayer and pilgrimage sacred to Jewish people and Pope John Paul II visited it in 2,000 when, memorably, he inserted into the Wall a prayer that read:

God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behaviour of those who, in the course of history, have caused these children of yours to suffer.

St Luke’s Gospel was written between 10 and 20 years after this Temple was destroyed. In today’s text (21:5-19) he quotes Jesus predicting – no doubt to the astonishment of his hearers – that the magnificent Temple would one day be destroyed. Jesus then goes on to warns his followers that this catastrophe would not be the end of the world or herald his Second Coming but would be the beginning of a time when they would experience persecution. Finally, he challenges them to see their persecution as an opportunity to witness to him, which, he said, they would do effectively if they relied totally on him.

As Pope Francis reminds us, this call to witness to the love of Jesus is one made to all Christians and not just to the apostles 2,000 years ago. Pope John Paul II’s prayer in Jerusalem mentioned ‘Abraham and his descendants’ making known God’s name ‘to the nations’. Pope Francis reminds us that we also have the duty to be “going forth” to make the love of Christ better known in our time:

All of us are called to take part in this new missionary “going forth”. Each Christian and every community must discern the path the Lord points out, but all of us are asked to obey his call to go forth from our own comfort zone in order to reach all the “peripheries” in need of the light of the Gospel. (The Joy of the Gospel, n.20)

For Francis this involves two fundamental things. The first is that we each have what he calls a ‘renewed personal encounter with Christ’. And, secondly, that from this ‘encounter’ we extend what we have found to others.

It’s one thing to have a general awareness of the existence of God. It’s quite another to have a personal relationship with Jesus in which we experience his unconditional love. In such a relationship, Francis says, we will have what he calls an experience of ‘mercy’ and, if so, we must share that mercy in our own way with others, especially those on the ‘peripheries’ or situations of need .

So how can we – as individuals and as a community – do this in ways we are not doing already? A few weeks ago we had an open parish meeting to discuss how we might go about this. Some 35 people took part and the following practical suggestions were made ~ some are things to do at an individual level and others for possible joint parish action:

  1. Donate 10 per cent (tithing) from personal income to a newly created parish fund for supporting people on the ‘peripheries’ or in situations of need.
  2. Offer support to the ‘peripheries’ of divorced, bereaved, elderly and isolated people.
  3. Have study of Sacred Scripture sessions to enable people to have ‘a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ’.
  4. Arrange more sacramental preparation for families.
  5. Befriend the increasing number of young families joining the parish.
  6. Arrange a monthly Open House meeting for people of all ages with simple tea/coffee provided.
  7. Establish a monthly gathering of all personnel involved in parish groups, committees and organisations.
  8. Offer scholarships to young parishioners.
  9. Welcome refugees into our homes and the parish.
  10. Volunteer as a helper at the Diocesan Refugee Project in Summerhill Square.
  11. Support the work of the CHIOS charity for refugees crossing the Mediterranean into Greece.
  12. Arrange craft sessions for people of mixed ages.
  13. Support The Bostey in Walker and in additional ways such as mentoring, helping with job applications and interviews etc
  14. Establish a Buddy system in the parish.
  15. Celebrate Mass for people with Alzheimer’s and their carers.
  16. Support a homeless project (Emmaus or Shelter North East?)
  17. Establish a Mother & Toddler Group.
  18. Support single parent families.

Does anyone of these suggestions appeal to you? We will have a follow-up open meeting after Christmas to which everyone will be invited.

The Greek word ‘martyr’ means ‘witness’. It may be that you and I are not called to undergo persecution because of our faith but we all are called to witness to the love of Christ. The challenge in being a follower of Jesus involves not just personally benefitting from knowing him and going along with his teaching; it also is to actively witness to him not merely in words but in our attitudes and practical works of mercy.

Michael Campion
Holy Name, Jesmond
17 November 2019

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