Friday, 19 October 2012

XIII Mexico: The Golden Goal

Chapel of Our Lady of Czestachowa, Poland

   Many Christians put a special emphasis on the words spoken by Our Lord as He endured His sorrowful passion, and subjected Himself to the furnace of excruciating affliction on the cross, in order to accomplish the salvific purpose contained within His Name; Jesus - God saves. In spite of His undoubted innocence, Pontius Pilate, the archetype of a cowardly, populist politician, had sought vainly to appease the baying crowd by ordering that Jesus be scourged to within an inch of His life. Unsatisfied, and not content either with a crown of thorns that pierced and dug deeply into Our Lord’s head and face, already so cruelly abused and spat upon, the people persisted in their demand for the ultimate brutality: crucifixion. At the ‘place of the skull’, Golgotha, having been compelled to carry His cross along Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa, His spasm-stricken limbs were extended across the beams and, in a satanic travesty of the holy carpenter’s profession, nails were driven through His sacred hands and feet. Then the dark epicentre of torture, as the cross was raised; but death would not be His for another three hours. How far, it might be wondered, were the Roman executioners clouded in their outlook by a sense of racial supremacy, magnifying their capacity to act in such a callous way? The killing of one human being by another so often stems from a failure to recognise the fullness of the other person’s humanity. Yet while going through, severally, agonies and torments that individually one wouldn’t dream of inflicting on an animal, Our Lord was emphatic:

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [Luke 23:34]

As He neared His last breath, St John tells us: 

“Seeing His Mother and the disciple whom He loved standing near her, Jesus said to His Mother, 'Woman, behold thy son.' Then to the disciple He said, 'Behold thy Mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” [John 19:26-27]

   On his visit to Our Lady’s house in Ephesus[1] on 29th November 2006, Pope Benedict XVI, one of the greatest teachers of his or any other generation, and possessed of an intellect as powerful as any human who has ever lived[2], explained:

“The Son of God thus fulfilled His mission: born of the Virgin in order to share our human condition in everything but sin, at His return to the Father He left behind in the world the sacrament of the unity of the human race: the family “brought into unity from the unity of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”[3], at whose heart is this new bond between the Mother and the disciple. Mary’s divine motherhood and her ecclesial motherhood are thus inseparably united. […] And the Virgin Mary, the Mother of Christ and of the Church, is the Mother of that mystery of unity which Christ and the Church inseparably signify and build up, in the world and throughout history.”
   It was quite exciting and extraordinary, as the plane took off and climbed away from the runway at Tokyo Narita, to think that my hop across the Pacific Ocean would demand nothing more of me than to sit back and enjoy the view. A “mini-night” of half darkness was a curious and unexpected feature of the 18 hour voyage. I got some sleep, prayed my rosary, read a British newspaper, and watched one or two Hollywooden motion pictures that left no lasting impression. Crossing the International Date Line meant we landed in Mexico at 3.30pm on the same Wednesday 27th July, still dedicated to Blessed Robert Nutter; apparently only 4 hours after the Japanese departure time.

   Also commemorated on 27th July are the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, sometimes named as SS. Maximian, Malchus, Martinian, Dionysius, John, Serapion, and Constantine; martyrs, it appears, from the reign of the Emperor Decius, having been walled up in a cave where they had taken refuge, and left to die. Their relics were found centuries later, possibly under Christian Emperor Theodosius II, whereupon a legend of their having only slept gained widespread currency; their ‘tomb’ became an important centre of pilgrimage. They have since passed into relative obscurity in the Christian world, but their story is recounted in the Qu’ran (Surah 18, verse 9-26), making it highly prominent in Islam. And most instructive to pilgrims of whatever faith are verses 23 and 24:

“Do not say: “I will do this tomorrow”, without saying, “if God Wills.” [Insha’Allah[4]] And, if you forget to do this, you must immediately remember your Lord and say, “May my Lord guide me to do better next time.””

[1] Near to what is now Selçuk on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, this house (now a chapel) is believed to have been the one shared by St Mary and St John, located with help from the writings of a 19th century German nun and mystic, Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich. It has become a shrine and pilgrimage destination for both Christians and Muslims, Mary (Maryam) being the woman mentioned more frequently than any other in the Qu’ran.
[2] He can read and understand Ancient Greek and Biblical Hebrew, as well as being fluent in six modern European languages and Latin. First and foremost, Joseph Ratzinger is a theologian, as distinct from Blessed John Paul II’s philosopher. Cardinal Archbishop Joachim Meisner of Cologne once said of him, "He has the intelligence of 12 professors and is as pious as a child on the day of his first communion." If you’re going to have a Pope, you may as well have him.
[3] St Cyprian, De Orat. Dom., 23: PL 4, 536
[4] ‘Allah’ is simply the Arabic word for God; the God of Abraham, worshipped by Muslims, Jews and Christians. This is clear not least from the use of the same word by Arab Christians, and by Christians on the island of Malta, whose language is descended from Arabic. On his visit to Turkey in 2006, Pope Benedict cited the words of Pope Gregory VII, addressing a Muslim Prince in North Africa in 1076, speaking: “…of the particular charity that Christians and Muslims owe to one another…because we believe in one God, albeit in a different manner, and because we praise Him and worship Him every day as the Creator and Ruler of the world.”

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