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Spiritual lessons from Hajj

Beautiful spiritual lessons from Hajj: The journey of a lifetime!
Joseph Victor Edwin SJ
Jul 11th, 2022 (Updated Jul 12th, 2022)

Dear Christian Brothers and Sisters:

Eid Mubarak!

You must be wondering what am I saying to you. I am wishing you a happy feast. I am wishing you a happy feast of sacrifice. Muslims all over the world celebrate a feast called Eid ul Adha which is commonly called Bakrid.You must have heard from your Muslim friends about this feast. Some of you might have even been invited for a meal at their home. One of the five pillars of Muslim spirituality is Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca. Many of the rights of the pilgrimage are associated with the Biblical patriarch Abraham and Hajj is the heart of the Islamic way of life. You will find a beautiful description of Hajj in the Quran (Q. 22: 26-38).The Quran teaches that a Muslim who has sufficient money and good health must make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in their lifetime.

Every year, during the Islamic month of Dhul Hijjah, five days of the month are designated for Hajj. Before entering into the premises of the Kaaba, Muslims who are performing the Hajj, put on a simple white dress called Ihram, which comprises two pieces of unstitched cloth, one that covers the hip and one that covers the upper part of the body. Women also wear a scarf. This white garment signifies the absolute equality of all men and women before God.

The rites of the pilgrimage are associated with Abraham and the first important rite is called the Tawaf. This means going around the Kaaba seven times in an anti-clockwise direction in remembrance of Abraham and his son Ismael.

The second ritual is called Sayee where the pilgrims run between two hills, Al Safa and Al Marwah. This is to remember Hagar who was shown a spring of water by an angel as she was running up and down the hills to find some water for her child Ismael who was crying out of thirst. The pilgrims then progress towards Mina where they stay the night and next day at sunrise proceed towards the plains of Arafat. This is a very important day as the pilgrims enter into the heart of the Hajj. This is the place where Muslims believe that Adam and Eve were reconciled with God, and where Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh) delivered his final sermon.

Muslims believe that God imposed upon himself the law of mercy (Q. 6: 12) and so pilgrims take advantage of God’s mercy and ask for pardon and forgiveness. This is an intense moment as the pilgrims stand on the plain of Arafat and pray for forgiveness. As they humbly acknowledge and recognise their sins before God, they resolve that, with God’s help, they will not sin again and make right the wrong they have done. In doing this Muslims stand as if they are anticipating the Day of Judgement (Q. 6: 21-31).

Then the pilgrims move to Muzdalifa and spend the night there. After collecting some pebbles, the pilgrims proceed to Mina where they throw the stones at three pillars which symbolically representing satan and so they reject their inner satanic, negative traits and temptations. .

As a Christian reflecting on this Muslim practice of Hajj, my heart is drawn to the Biblical figure of Abraham. Muslims identify their God as the God of Abraham. The Catholic Church in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium 16 clearly stated: ” … Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.” it’s a very significant point. The fact that both traditions see themselves as worshipping the God of Abraham shouldn’t be ignored (Paul Hedges).

St Paul in his letter to Galatians (3:6-9) reflects on the quality of the faith of Abraham. “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

Abraham is the father of all those who believe, Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Why is he our father in faith? Abraham’s faith consists in obedience and trust. God asks Abraham to leave his home and go to a land that He showed him (Genesis 12). Away from his community, away from his people, clan and culture, he trusted God and left everything to do God’s will. God said that “I will make your descendants a great nation.” This promise from God was made when Abraham was childless. But Abraham trusted God. His son Ismael is sent to the wilderness and God asks him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham was obedient and trusted him. God can raise the dead to life (Romans 4, 24). So, what do we learn from Abraham’s life? He allowed God to be God in his life. Millions of Muslims who perform Hajj every year allow God to be God in their lives. They have tremendous trust in God and His mercy.

Dear brothers and sisters, so Bakrid or the day of Eidul Adha is a beautiful day to reflect on the presence of God in our lives and communities, to reflect on our own sinfulness and our own limitations and seek God’s forgiveness in our lives.

Yours sincerely

2020.07.Victor-Edwin-SJJoseph Victor Edwin SJ
Vidyajyoti College of Theology
Delhi 110 054
INDIA

 

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Helpful Conversations

by Sr Isabel Smyth, SND

Ever since the Second Vatican Council Catholic Bishops have met regularly to discuss issues of common concern. These meetings are called Synods and next year there is to be one on the very notion of synodality, on how to make the Church more inclusive and responsive to the needs of the present world. It’s basically a listening exercise, focussing on three questions: what do you value, what causes you pain and difficulty and how might the Church respond to present needs and concerns? It’s part of Pope Francis’ genius that he doesn’t want to limit these discussions to practising Catholics but has encouraged parishes to listen to those outside the Church, have left it or feel isolated and alienated from it. I was privileged enough to be part of two conversations with interfaith friends and consider these questions together.

It was heartening to hear that there was much they valued about the Church, not least Pope Francis himself whom they saw as an inspiration and someone who showed a real love for the whole of humanity. They appreciated his witness to the importance of good interfaith relations which has built bridges between communities and allowed them to move forward in friendship. The signing of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together by the Pope and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University in 2019 was seen as significant. The annual letters of greetings from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue which are accompanied here in Scotland by a letter from the Scottish Bishops had helped strengthen and deepen good relations. These Scottish letters showed respect for and knowledge of the other faith as well as relating the festival to catholic belief and practice. The work of the Bishops’ Committee for Interreligious Dialogue, such as our annual reception for faith communities, was mentioned as was the involvement of the Bishops’ Secretary for Interreligious Dialogue who for over thirty years has supported the development of interfaith at local and national level. If there had not been this involvement and participation, it was suggested, interfaith relations would not have developed in Scotland.

When it came to hearing about concerns and issues it was obvious that we were all facing similar problems. One of these was the decline in numbers attending places of worship and the number of young people who no longer found religion relevant, though there was also the phenomenon of some young people becoming more traditional and right wing – something that could be a good topic for dialogue. There was a recognition that all our faiths are facing the same moral issues and in one of the conversations homosexuality was mentioned. Our religions should not be judgemental about people’s life stances, it was suggested, and it is because of this many are walking away from religion. So too interfaith marriages are still not accepted. In the past Jewish parents considered children who married outside the faith as dead and catholic parents often refused to go to the weddings of their children who married outside the Church. The control clergy have over certain elements of religion – eg. admitting people to the sacraments, refusing blessings or whatever is a common concern as is the role of women though, interestingly, women tend to predominate in interfaith relations and in this case the concern is how to get men involved.

These attitudes needed to change as does ignorance of the faith of others. Older views of one another’s faith and the legacy of the past are a barrier to understanding and have led to it being taboo for some Jews to visit a church or even mention Jesus or a suspicion of visiting places of worship. and engaging in dialogue for fear of conversion. While interfaith friendships are expanding and have grown over the years there is still a lot of mistrust of the other and a fear of being converted or encouraged to do so. What is needed is more dialogue and friendship, particularly at a local and neighbourhood level. A Christmas card from the local church would be appreciated as would carol singing at Christmas and perhaps a card to recognize the festivals of the faiths in the neighbourhood and a visit to a local place of worship.  Even when a church is situated, for example, in an area with a large Jewish population, no mention is ever made of that in sermons or the life of the Church.

Many found it difficult to get local parish priests involved in interfaith events or respond to invitations. Clergy in all faiths need to be encouraged and told about the importance of interfaith relations and dialogue as these are important and necessary if communities are to be healthy. At present it tends to be the same faces at interfaith meetings, and this is a sign of weakness. How are we to encourage others – by having young people shadow experienced dialoguers, by good interreligious education? A grounding in world faiths should be given in faith education and clergy training. Too often the leaders and clergy in our faiths are inclined to be inward looking with no comments or statement on issues facing society and the community. This too should change.

There was a real sense of unity in the conversations and many of the concerns, as is obvious from this account, were shared by the different faiths. It was a valuable experience for all of us. We recognized one another, not just as friends but as citizens of the world and of Scotland. It was felt therefore that it is important that we are seen to be acting together for the common good, that we witness to friendships that extend beyond the boundaries of race and religion and hopefully contribute to peaceful co-existence among nations.

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Dialogue on Mary the Mother of Jesus in the Catholic and Muslim traditions

by Sr Isabel Smyth SND

I’ve taken part in some interesting interfaith dialogues this last weekend. The first dialogue which didn’t quite turn out to be a dialogue was focussed on Mary the mother of Jesus from both a Catholic and a Shia Muslim perspective. Why it wasn’t quite a dialogue was that the input was intense and full so that there wasn’t much time for dialogue or questions. The input however was a basis, I hope, for future dialogues when it might be possible to bring the four women who participated together simply to respond to one another and reflect on the questions posed by their talks. The meeting was on zoom which had the great advantage of including women from Argentina, Michigan, Catalonia as well as Scotland and allowed attendees to put questions into chat. But zoom also has disadvantages in that it’s more difficult to regulate the time and allow for more personal responses.

The format of the event was that two speakers from each religion would talk about what we learn of Mary from their tradition and what Mary has meant to them as a woman of faith.  Sr Teresa Forcades, described by the BBC as Europe’s most radical nun, gave the more academic contribution. She is very busy, and it has been said that she always seems to be in two places at once. This was borne out by the fact that she spoke to us from a hotel lounge where she was in the middle of a conference that she was organising. It was enlightening. For Teresa Mary is a model of Christian discipleship for both men and women. A surprise to me was the knowledge that in the New Testament Mary speaks more than any other disciple. In fact, suggests Teresa she is the most active and talkative of the disciples, not a traditional view of the Virgin Mary. The first word that Mary speaks in the Gospel of Luke is “how will this be?” in response to the announcement that she has found favour with God and will bear a child. For Sr Teresa this is not a sign of disbelief as happened with Zachariah when he heard that his wife was pregnant but rather showed her as a dialogue partner with God. Throughout the gospels Mary’s words confirm her as a confident woman who takes responsibility for her faith, is a channel of grace, has taken a radical option for life, shouts out with joy, complains and suffers.

Sr Teresa’s contribution was well supported and illustrated by Mary Cullen, well known in Catholic circles in Scotland, in her reflection on the place of Mary in her own life of faith using a picture, a poem, a prayer and a book. Fra Angelica’s painting of the Annunciation was the picture which, for Mary, showed an idealised, submissive and silent Mary, an image that she had grown up with. Experience, however, has taught her that this was the unrealistic, fanciful and even romanticised vision of patriarchy. Throughout her life and through her friendship with other women of faith she came to know Mary as a woman of strength, illustrated well in the poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins “The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to the Air We Breathe” and the work of Anne Johnson in her book “Myriam of Nazareth, Women of Strength and Wisdom” as well as the work of theologian Elizabeth Johnson who in her book “Truly Our Sister”  ‘… invites Mary to come down from the pedestal where she has been honoured for centuries and rejoin us in the community of grace and struggle in history’.

The two Muslim women, Sameia Younes and Israa Safieddine took a different approach, basing their contributions on the text of the Qur’an where Myriam is mentioned 34 times and the only one to be addressed by her personal name, even having a chapter devoted to her and her life. According to the Prophet Mohammed Mary is one of the best women of the world, standing alongside Asiyah, the wife of Pharaoh who rescued Moses from death in the Nile; Khadijah, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad who supported him in his call to be a prophet, and Fatimah, the daughter of Khadijah and the Prophet who was greatly loved by him and seen as an example of an outstanding woman. The details of the life of Mary, particularly the virginal conception and birth of Jesus are very different from that found in the Gospels. Mary, as a young child, lives a life of seclusion and dedication to God, looked after by her uncle Zechariah, when she is visited by an angel who tells her of God’s choice that she should be the mother of the Messiah, Jesus. Jesus is born in the desert where Mary is miraculously sustained by a date tree and spring of water. Afraid of what will be said about her having given birth to a son, “carrying him she brought him to her people. They said, ‘O Mary, you have certainly come up with an odd thing! ….Thereat she pointed to him. They said, ‘How can we speak to one who is yet a baby in the cradle?”  But Jesus does speak to confirm that he is of God.

It’s easy in a dialogue such as this one to focus on the differences in the accounts but despite these there was a lot in common. In both traditions it was obvious that Mary is seen as an example of a faithful and discerning servant of God for both men and women. She is not mild and meek but strong and courageous and for us engaged in interfaith work she is above all a partner in dialogue.

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Lent

By Anthony MacIsaac 

Austerity is a marker of most religious life in some fashion. Sometimes it is part and parcel of penance, making up for one’s faults or sins. Sometimes it simply delineates pilgrimage, a journey towards God, a turning towards God. Perhaps it is best seen in the light of commitment in faith, a sign of character. By adopting the austere, in lieu of easier expressions of faith, people may show the extent of their conviction. 

Religious austerity expresses itself in various specific ways. Fasting from food and drink might be integral to it, in certain contexts. In other contexts, a period of poverty, without access to the luxuries of modern life, might be more descriptive. Celibacy – temporary or lifelong – may even become a factor. Monastic life is perhaps one of the best examples of a life dedicated to God, in the extremities of austerity. This is witnessed equally among the Buddhists of Tibet and elsewhere, and those Orthodox and Catholic Monasteries dotted across Europe. Pluscarden Abbey remains an example in our own Scotland. 

We further find that the austere is marked out in certain seasons, across the world religions. In Islam we have Ramadan, which incorporates strict fasting and a renewed sense of prayer. Such commitment often wins the admiration of people the world over. In Christianity, the season of Lent provides a similar example. Fasting is likewise present, even if not always so intense as in Ramadan, and prayer is emphasised alongside good works. Penance is certainly a major aspect of the season, and as we have entered into its first week, perhaps this merits some further reflection. 

Looking at the world today, we may consider the value of penance, and indeed the value of some austerity in our own lives. Materialism surely cannot have the final word. Looking at Ukraine, and also at Afghanistan, we see people thrust into poverty and hardship. Often this brings out the best in them, as tragic as the circumstances are. Looking at climate change, we are reminded by the Earth herself that we must curb our consumption. Some simplicity might be essential for the future, if we are to have a future. Pope Francis called for Ash Wednesday to be a day of special fasting and prayer concerning the situation in the Ukraine. He has also called for similar days of fasting previously, for those tragedies and problems that continue to beset the world at large. Perhaps this is one of the greatest points which we can reflect on concerning this Lenten season: how does it bring us to that life in God that leavens the world around us? 

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Saving St Mungo’s Museum

by Sr Isabel Smyth SND

On 17th February Glasgow City Council announced its budget for the forthcoming year and plans for post-covid recovery. Included in that budget is the statement “ As well as confirming the funding to keep all local libraries open, it will also allocate more than £1 million to reopen community centres and public halls, and £650k to reopen the much-loved St Mungo’s Museum and Provand’s Lordship”  This feels like a victory for all those who campaigned tirelessly for the council to keep local libraries, museums and community centres open. Was this part of the budget the result of that campaigning, did Glasgow City Council listen to the voices of its citizens and realise how committed people were to their cultural and community centres, recognising the value they have in the ethos and development of a city.

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I was involved in the campaign to save St Mungo’s Museum or Religious Life and Art so that it would keep its interfaith and multifaith focus. Glasgow Life had indicated that its plan was to enter into an agreement with Historic Environment Scotland who own Glasgow Cathedral to revamp the Cathedral precinct to attract more visitors to the historic centre of Glasgow. This revamp would include St Mungo’s Museum and could mean a change in its focus to link more clearly with the history of the Cathedral. This has not yet been resolved but it is surely in keeping with the Christian origins of Glasgow to show its growth as the multifaith city, committed to social and interfaith harmony, that it has become.

The idea of a Museum of Religious Life and Art was the brainchild of Mark O’Neill, at that time Senior Curator of History with Gl. Museums. From the outset it was developed with a socially driven purpose, expressed in the mission statement:

to explore the importance of religion in people’s everyday lives across the world and across time, aiming to promote mutual understanding and respect between people of different faiths and none.  

Mark and his team were convinced that if the museum was to live up to this vision stakeholders would have to be consulted and included in the museum’s development – even in the decision to call it The St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. The stakeholders were the various faith communities in Glasgow as well as the Glasgow Sharing of Faiths, the first and, at that time, only interfaith group in Scotland.  All these groups were approached and involved – donating artefacts and giving suggestions about the layout.  Once opened the museum became a centre for interfaith celebrations and dialogues and because of the involvement of faith communities from its inception the Museum felt very much like a home from home. It did indeed become a much loved venue and the thought of it closing was like a bereavement and loss of what was considered a safe and neutral space to conduct what were sometimes difficult dialogues.    

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The Museum opened on 4th April 1993, one of only two Museums of Religion in Europe. Now there are more and many of those setting up similar museums came to Glasgow to learn from the St. Mungo experience. For these interfaith friends the thought of St Mungo’s closing or even changing its focus seemed incredible and many of them added their voices of protest to those of Glaswegians and the thousands of people who signed the petition instigated by Interfaith Glasgow. 

This is not the first time that there have been plans to close St Mungo’s Museum, nor the first time it has been saved. It’s as though Glasgow Council needs to be reminded from time to time of its significance and the important contribution it makes to good community relations. Hopefully that no matter what future developments there might be stakeholders from Glasgow’s diverse religious communities, interfaith organisations, and anti-sectarian organisations will be consulted.   

 

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On the 2nd Anniversary

A Guest Blog by Devin Watkins, Vatican News Agency

Pope Francis: ‘Embrace human fraternity to stop endless destruction’

Pope Francis released a video message to mark the 2nd International Day of Human Fraternity, and urges all people to trod the difficult path of fraternity in order to overcome the prejudices and conflicts that divide humanity.

The International Day of Human Fraternity was set up by the UN General Assembly to commemorate the signing of the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, in Abu Dhabi on 4 February 2019.

Pope Francis sent a video message on Friday as the world marked the second Day dedicated to this historic event. Fraternity, said the Pope, can act as a “bulwark against hatred, violence, and injustice”.

He thanked the many people and organizations—especially Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and the Higher Committee for Human Fraternity—for the many initiatives which seek to implement the Document’s values.

“Fraternity is one of the fundamental and universal values that ought to undergird relationships between peoples, so that the suffering or disadvantaged do not feel excluded and forgotten, but accepted and supported as part of the one human family. We are brothers and sisters!”

Worshiping God, loving neighbour

Pope Francis said all people, regardless of religion or creed, are called to promote a “culture of peace” that welcomes all, while encouraging development and solidarity.

Throughout his message, the Pope repeated the affirmation that “we all live under the same heaven” and that we are all God’s children, no matter the colour of our skin or social class.

He said every person has a role to play in making the world a better place, by helping others raise “their eyes and prayers to heaven.”

“Let us raise our eyes to heaven, because whoever worships God with a sincere heart also loves his or her neighbour. Fraternity makes us open to the Father of all and enables us to see others as our brothers or sisters, to share life, to support one another and to love and come to know others.”

‘Unity in diversity’

As the world faces the Covid-19 pandemic, he said, we must remember that we are not saved alone. Rather, we must extend our hands “to celebrate our unity in diversity—unity, not uniformity,” said the Pope.

“The time of fraternity has arrived,” he added, so we should strive to “live in solidarity with one another.”

He also lamented the many little wars—a “third world war being fought piecemeal”—that destroy lives, force children to endure hunger, and suppress educational opportunities.

“Now is not a time for indifference: either we are brothers and sisters, or everything falls apart.”

We must not be indifferent to each other’s sufferings, said the Pope. The common heritage of Christians, Muslims, and Jews in God’s promise to Abraham joins us and helps us live “a fraternity as vast and bright as the stars of heaven.”

‘Anchor of salvation for humanity’

Pope Francis again greeted his “dear brother”, the Grand Imam, and acknowledged that the path of fraternity is “long and challenging” yet it is “the anchor of salvation for humanity.”

“Let us counter the many threatening signs, times of darkness and mindsets of conflict with the sign of fraternity that, in accepting others and respecting their identity, invites them to a shared journey,” he said.

Every person should be respected in their own identity and personality, added the Pope.

And he concluded by thanking everyone who believes that the world can live in harmony, since we are all “creatures of God: brothers and sisters.”

“I encourage everyone to be committed to the cause of peace and to respond concretely to the problems and needs of the least, the poor and the defenseless,” said Pope Francis. “Our resolve is to walk side by side, ‘brothers and sisters all’, in order to be effective artisans of peace and justice, in the harmony of differences and with respect for the identity of each.”

 

Golden Threads

Golden Threads

GOLDEN THREADS REAWAKENED

Weaving a Legacy

A group of amateur tapestry weavers in Edinburgh have together created this tapestry

 Background The tapestry uses golden threads collected by Hedwig Philip which had not seen the light of day for 70 years. Hedwig was a German Jew. She and her husband narrowly avoided the Holocaust. They left Berlin in 1941 and travelled to join family in Pennsylvania.

A skilled needlewoman, she collected golden threads and embroidered a Torah Mantle for the local synagogue. In 1951 she travelled with all her belongings to Britain to join her daughter in Newcastle. Hedwig died not long afterwards. Her box of golden threads remained unopened, passed down to her daughter and then to her granddaughter, Cathie Wright.

Golden Threads

Weaving the tapestry This group tapestry pays homage to Hedwig’s story, but the quantity and beauty of the threads, the heritage and the journey travelled, called for something more. The result is a modern, secular tapestry incorporating these historic golden threads. There are 16 panels, each one designed by the weaver, drawing on the themes of Jewish heritage, refugee travel and survival, conflict avoidance, building bridges and seeking a better world with hope for a brighter future.

As Cathie has said, ‘This is a community enterprise that takes the threads from one spiritual tradition to universal themes that celebrate life and survival’.

The tapestries are woven with contemporary materials (wools and cottons) supplementing the old golden threads. They are joined with an overlay of golden braid which also came from Hedwig’s box. The overall size of the composite tapestry is 30 inches square.

For more information please contact Project Leader Jackie Grant     jackieclairegrant@gmail.com

Photo © Geoff Gardner Photography

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Supplementary information

A photo of Hedwig and the contents of her box not opened for 70 years

Hedwig

The Weavers and the Names of their Tapestries 

Anita Nolan

 Reconciliation

Sandra Carter

 Into the Light

Joan Mclellan

 Spiral

Sarah Clark

 Hedwig

Lindi McWilliam

 Breaking through Barriers

Judith Barton

 From the Ruins

Elspeth Hosie

 Journey’s End

Francesca McGrath

 From  the Darkness

Hilary Watkinson

Glimmer of Hope

Barbara Clarke

 Ode to Joy and Peace

Jackie Grant

 Tree of Life

Kirsteen Shaw

 Return to the Light

Irene McCombe

Trunk of New Beginnings

Serena Naismith

Linking Communities

Joan Houston

New Life Sycamore

Ann Smuga

Dove of Peace

Stitching and assembly of the composite tapestry by Sylvia Davidson

 Grateful thanks to Cathie Wright for giving us the threads and encouraging the project, and to professional tapestry artists Joanne Soroka and Jo McDonald for their invaluable advice and support.

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Jesus the Jew

By Sr Isabel Smyth

This is the season of Advent, the season when Christians prepare for Christmas and reflect on the significance of Jesus for themselves and the world. During these four weeks Christians will be singing advent carols such as ‘O come, O come Emmanuel’ with lyrics that talk of “captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here. It calls on Jesus to “free thine own from Satan’s tyranny, from the depths of hell thy people save”. What would it be like to sing these words in the presence of Jews, how would they feel to hear themselves described as captive to Satan’s tyranny? Unfortunately, these words reflect Christianity’s attitude to Judaism over the centuries – Jews were seen as bound by a legalism that Christianity had been freed from, they were in the thrall of the devil because they had not accepted Jesus as their saviour, and this was because they were spiritually blind. Tragically this negative attitude led to violent and horrific anti-Semitism over the centuries. Jews were subject to pogroms, expulsion and violence, resulting in the murder of 6 million Jews in the Nazi death camps.

Thank goodness this attitude has changed and in the Catholic church there is a much more positive attitude towards the Jews and Judaism. One of the reasons for this change of heart has been the recognition that Jesus, his mother, his disciples were all Jews and that we Christians have a familial relationship with Judaism.

It’s sometimes difficult for Christians to truly take this on board but if we are to truly know Jesus, we must know something of his context. Jesus lived in Galilee, in what is now northern Israel. It was not a backwater. It was cosmopolitan, situated on the silk road route and people living there would have encountered other cultures and beliefs so that it is possible that Jesus spoke Aramaic, Hebrew, Greek and Latin. The country was under Roman rule and the Jewish people longed for liberation. They looked forward to someone, a messiah, who would bring this about. Jesus is likely to have engaged in discussions and debates with other Jews, including Pharisees, as to how and when this might happen as he would have debated how best to live a good Jewish life. And he did all this as a faithful Jew. Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew. He never rejected or denied his religion though Christians have so underlined the importance of Jesus’ divinity and uniqueness that they have misunderstood the gospels and interpreted them as Jesus, and even God rejecting Judaism.

This is not accurate. Jesus loved his faith and lived it faithfully. He loved the Torah, which is the spiritual guidance at the heart of Judaism. In Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples that he had come, not to abolish the law, but to fulfil it. At the time there was a lot of debate among the various groups and teachers about what it meant to be a good Jew and how to keep the Law in an occupied land. Questions, such as was it lawful for a Jew to pay taxes, were not a challenge to his authority or an attempt to undermine him but the kind of dilemma facing Jews at that time.

Jesus kept the law, he ate kosher food, he was circumcised like all Jewish boys, he went to the Temple in Jerusalem, he attended the synagogue, he read the Jewish scriptures and would have prayed and even sung the psalms. He would have prayed three times a day wearing phylacteries, he would have worn fringes on his outer cloak.

He kept the Sabbath. There is an incident in the gospels when Jesus’ disciples plucked corn on the Sabbath because they were hungry and when Jesus was challenged about this he said, “the Sabbath is made for man not man for the Sabbath”. Some biblical commentaries suggest that this is a sign that in Jesus the age of keeping the law had been replaced by the age of redemption. But Jesus was not encouraging a breaking of the law because we now know that such an approach was not unknown in the Jewish tradition and that the law was to enhance life. What Jesus was doing was offering one interpretation of the law.

We know that Jesus had a deeply personal relationship with his father, calling God Abba. This is often, maybe even always, interpreted as Jesus having a more intimate and personal relationship with God than the Jews of the time who would always address God in more formal terms. This is not so – there are many examples of Jews talking to God as Abba and once again Christians have tried to make Jesus more unique than he was.

What Jesus is doing in the gospels is teaching his disciples how to be good Jews, how to live by the spirit of the law and respond from the heart. It was one way of being Jewish among others. Often conflicts in the gospels are not reflecting the time of Jesus but the times when the gospels were written and reflect tensions between the synagogue and the growing Christian community, not between Jesus and his contemporaries, including the pharisees.

Christians are followers of Jesus and live according to his understanding of faith and religion but how tragic if in doing this we interpret the scriptures in anti-Jewish ways and fail to respect the religion that Jesus loved and honour a people that Pope John Paul II described as our elder brothers and sisters in faith.

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Cop 26

By Sr Isabel Smyth SND

COP 26 has started, and thousands of people have landed on Glasgow. Today is the day for world leaders and significant individuals to address the conference. Listening to them they all seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. Environmentalists and young people from developing countries face the conference participants with the reality of climate change and its consequence for the world and their generation with strong, honest and challenging words. ‘You do not need to see my tears or pain to know what is at stake’, said one of them. Thousands of protesters have proved their commitment by walking in pilgrimage to Glasgow, demonstrating across the River Clyde from the conference venue to remind negotiators of what is at stake and how the world is depending on them for a just and constructive agreement.  A lot of their concerns and hopes for the future were echoed by the world leaders themselves. There is no need to doubt that presidents and prime ministers are unaware of the urgency of the climate crisis, of the greed and selfishness that needs to be challenged, of the solution that is in their hands. But will the worlds translate into action? – that’s the rub.

In ‘The Home We Build TogetherLord Jonathan Sacks maintained that people will only work together for the common good if they are faced with the same problem, a problem that requires cooperation for a solution. Now we have such a problem. It’s hard to think of any other issue that affects every human being, rich or poor and, beyond humanity, all sentient beings, and the very planet itself. We are in danger of making this beautiful blue planet of ours inhospitable and uninhabitable. And many of us know it and feel the pain of it.

This was very obvious yesterday at an interfaith vigil to pray for the success of this COP. It was simple and showed a great unity of purpose. It began with the reading of what has come to be known as the Glasgow Multifaith Declaration by a Catholic and Episcopalian Bishop, an Imam and a representative from the Sikh faith. The declaration follows on from the 2015 interfaith Lambeth Declaration and the Scottish Religious Leaders’ Forum’s Statement of Commitment of 2020. It has been signed by religious leaders in Scotland and the UK and acknowledges the unity among faith communities ‘in caring for human life and the natural world’ and how people of faith ‘share a belief in a hopeful future, as well as an obligation to be responsible in caring for our common home, the Earth’. It includes the commitment to reflect deeply in prayer and meditation to discern how to care for the earth and one other, to make transformational change personally and communally through individual and collective action and to be advocates for justice for the earth and the poor who suffer most from climate change.

The other element in the vigil was a prayer for the environment from each of nine faiths – Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Brahma Kumari, Sikh, Hindu, Baha’i, Pagan and Muslim. What struck so many of the attendees was how similar the sentiments of the prayer were even if expressed differently. For some people new to interfaith this was a revelation but others like me, who have been involved for some time, know there is a unity among people of faith and some of us feel closer to people of other faiths than we do to people in our own. One of the joys for me was to meet friends whom I have known and worked with over the years but have not seen for some time. One of them mentioned that it was her visit to the International Flat in Glasgow and meeting Stella Reekie that started her on her interfaith journey, which is my story too. Stella began the first interfaith group in Scotland, and I consider her the pioneer of interfaith in Scotland which now has a national interfaith body and twenty local interfaith groups. My friend said, ‘you can feel her presence here’ and so you could.

It is wonderful to know so many people who share a love and concern for the planet and it can be easy to forget that others might feel differently. Some people have too many survival concerns to be thinking of climate change, others are just not interested and don’t recognise the problem, but others are quite cynical about conferences such as COP. This is COP 26 – why, if the other COPS did not produce a result, will this one?  Climate change has always been with us, human beings will eventually become extinct just as the dinosaurs did, how can politicians speak about climate change and fly all over the world to these meetings, the suggestion for combatting climate change are just not possible – all arguments put to me in a recent conversation. There’s no answering these statements. A desire to care for our planet cannot be developed through argument, I suspect, but only by a new vision that appreciates the interconnectedness of all life and our place in the great story of the universe – a story that we don’t hear enough of but one which might help us see with new eyes.  

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Have you heard of Faith Plans for People and Planet?

A blog on Faith-based investing, by Yolanda Matro, Committee Member

Recently I was invited to attend a Zoom meeting by a friend actively involved in Faith Invest.  Their latest project, in conjunction with the World Wide Fund for Nature, is the Faith Plans for People and Planet. Faith Invest’s main role will be to encourage faiths to embed into their plans investment policies which are consistent with their faith while the WWF will provide expertise on key environmental issues.

I was attracted immediately by the words ‘Faith Plans’!  And so, I registered and was amazed by the number people present. They were mostly communication officers from many parts of the world and from various religions who have expressed their interest in this project.

I learned how the 4th of October this year proved to be a significant day for the environment. On that day Pope Francis along with leaders of world religions made a public declaration pledging their organisations to actively address the climate crisis. Later that same day, Faith Invest announced their ‘Faith Plans for Planet and People’ project. The timing of both announcements is critically important. They came just before the start of the UN’s COP26 Climate Conference which will be held in Glasgow from 31st October to 12 November 2021. This is a crucially important COP if the effective shredding of the Paris Climate Agreement is to be prevented.

I also learnt more about Faith Invest. It is an international non-profit organisation. Its ‘Faith Plans for People and Planet’ drew inspiration from the 2009 Faith Commitments programme in which more than 60 traditions from all major faiths – including Buddhism, Daoism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Shintoism – made long-term commitments to the environment. Each group produced a plan relevant to their own beliefs, teachings, and practices. The response made by these groups to environmental issues over the coming decade was profoundly influenced by the success of their plans.

The new initiative for Faith Plans wants to build on the success of the original 2009 Faith Commitments programme by encouraging not 60 groups to make plans but thousands to become involved. ‘Faith Plans for People and Planet’ is a massive project which aims to get all faiths to set out clear plans on how they will reach environmental sustainability over the next decade. The plans are to be a response to the triple crises of climate change, ecological devastation, and the impact of Covid-19 on national commitments around the Sustainable Development Goals.

Seven key areas have been identified in which the world religions can have a significant impact on environmental action through their resources and traditions. These key areas are:

  Faith-consistent use of assets

  1. Education and young people
  2. Wisdom
  3. Lifestyle
  4. Media, advocacy & outreach
  5. Partnerships, eco-twinning
  6. Celebration

The CEO of Faith Invest, Martin Palmer, concluded the meeting by saying that it is important to connect with one’s Deity, with oneself, with others and with creation. In other words, examine our fundamental relationships. It left me feeling that if we put love in all these relationships, everything will work for the good of creation.    

For more information, please visit www.faithplans.org.                                                            

Yolanda Matro   18th October 2021

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