Fr Louis Reflection on the Passion and Death of Christ

It’s Spy Wednesday, just after midday.  I thought I’d take a break and watch a DVD which a great friend had sent me. She had forewarned me that it was hard viewing, but never-the-less if I persevered, I would find it engrossing.  It is called ‘The Promise’ made in 2005, and to quote the blurb on the back cover, it is ‘A political thriller in 4 episodes and set in contemporary Israel and British occupied Palestine in the aftermath of the Second World War’, a gap of 60 years.

The story concerns an 18 year old Londoner, Erin, who sets off to spend summer in Israel with her best friend Eliza. Prior to Erin’s departure, she is dragged along to help clear up the house of her seriously ill grandfather, and during the sorting out of his papers she unearths one of his old diaries. The diary grips her curiosity, particularly as her grandfather is describing her life in the army in 1945, and his personal experiences as the war in Europe is heading towards its conclusion. Fascinated to learn more about her grandfather’s experiences, she takes the diary with her, and is stunned to learn not only of his description of the European theatre of war, but subsequently the part he played in the post-WWII British peace-keeping force in what was then Palestine.

During the flight to Israel she starts to read the diary and learns that her grandfather witnessed the release of prisoners in one of the concentration camps at the end of WWII as the Allies moved through Europe. To make absolutely clear to the viewer what her grandfather witnessed, actual footage taken of the relief of one the camps was inserted into the film, so that there could be no mistaking what her grandfather had witnessed first hand. Such film never fails to tear me apart, and even sitting in my comfy armchair, I was unsettled. The story then flashes back to Palestine in September 1945, with scenes showing how the Jewish survivors of the death camps had arrived in Palestine in ships unworthy of the name, and also how they were treated with disrespect by the British forces ...... I couldn’t watch anymore, because I knew what was coming, as during my life I have heard first-hand what occurred in Palestine between 1945 and 1948 when the State of Israel was established. I ejected the DVD, and put it back in its plastic case.

Out of instinct, I put a CD of Karl Jenkins’ Requiem in the player, one of my favourites musical settings of a Requiem, which I enjoy ‘wallowing’ in. It didn’t help me a lot, because his musical setting of the Dies Irae .... this day of wrath shall consume the world in ashes .... was so military in its effect, and so ‘in tune’ with the DVD I had just ejected because I couldn’t bear watching it, that my head was full of images of soldiers marching, prisoners being man-handled, civilians scratching for food and the rest of it. Is that what Israel was like when it was occupied by the Roman Army 200 years ago? We know that Jesus was treated as trash, abused, mocked and the rest of it, and that attitude towards enforcement by soldiery, supported by government is still common place in many countries in the world.

I recall a snippet from a news report from China when the country was first put into ‘lockdown’ because of the Corona virus, which filmed how civilians were treated by the soldiers who had been despatched to enforce the ‘lockdown’. It was very uncomfortable viewing indeed. Tyranny is not the sole prerogative of any one nation, or restricted in time.

One of the results of conflict, both for the protagonist and victim, either in civilian life or in military action, is that families always suffer, and the resultant suffering doesn’t necessarily diminish with the passing of generations. The suffering of Christ hasn’t diminished during the last 2000 years, and neither has the validity or necessity of it diminished. Christ’s family suffered, and I refer not only to his Mother, but also to his disciples. Family is not just blood related, it envelops our closest friends, neighbours, associates, casual acquaintances with the underlying Christian stipulation or proviso that all our actions should be for the common good. That is the meaning of ‘love thy neighbour’.

In physical terms, when Jesus died he was separated from his mother and all those who loved him, remembering that he died once for all for the common good. We as a parish family are separated because of the current restrictions which have temporarily been introduced for the common good. We are aware that changes in lifestyle can disrupt the stability of family life and that is something we must guard against. Once a good habit is broken, sometimes it can take steely determination to resume what we know is for our own good.

Jesus’ death on the cross was for the family of mankind. Irrespective of the gravity of the in humanity of notorious tyrants, or of our own hidden tyrannies against each other, Jesus’ death was to erase the guilt of humanity so that Jesus could present every one of his creations to his father as perfect as the father is perfect. We are his family, and to God, family matters! Jesus wants his family to live, not to suffer, to be glorified, not to be condemned. With that truth, promoted throughout the world by the symbol of the cross, I finish with a quote from the last chapter of Ronald Rolheiser’s book ‘Seeking Spirituality’. He writes: ‘In an age when it is so difficult to sustain faith and to sustain community, [family] there can be no better advice to us than that of Jesus himself: Gather round the word of God and break the bread together. We do not have to even understand what we are doing and we do not have to be brilliant, imaginative, or stimulating. We just have to gather in his name around the simple, clear rituals he gave us. He promised to do the rest.’.

May that day come soon.


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