2012: Reading the Signs of the Times

A Homily by Fr. Carlo Colonna, sj

The following is a sample homily proposed by Catholics for Israel for the New Year 2012. It is an example of the Church’s Gospel message freed from the negative effects of the ‘Elephants in the Room’ that have been afflicting the Church in the Holy Land in recent years. The homily is based on the readings for the Mass of the Mother of God of January 1, 2012.

The Divine Liturgy of the Church celebrates the beginning of the year 2012 as an event that is not only natural, without any reference to the God of time and eternity, but full of the Creative Power of God, who gives to man days, months and years in which to accomplish his mission on earth. Hence the Church of God invites all believers in God, the Creator, to turn to Him, with arms raised, without controversy and contention, to receive from Him His blessing, in order to transform our days into a journey in time, full of life and of good works. And God is pleased to give us His blessing, when He sees that our hearts sincerely trust in Him, give Him worship and remember his commandments, to put them in practice at every moment with His grace.

In the first Reading of the Liturgy, the Church takes from Israel, the people of God, the formulas of blessing with which God had taught Aaron how to bless the children of His people. This is a sign of the biblical and Jewish roots of the Church’s faith and worship, through which the God of Israel has became the God of the Nations, their Lord and Savior, becoming known to all through the humble, peaceful and sweet person of the Messiah of Israel, Jesus Christ.

The Church celebrates the end and the beginning of the calendar year within a liturgical period called the Liturgy of the Nativity of the Messiah of Israel, born from a virgin, not by human design but through the work of the Holy Spirit. Seven days ago, at Christmas, the Church received the gift of God for the entire world, the Light of the Gentiles and Glory of Israel, He who comes to liberate the world from sin and to direct man's journey toward the eternal realm of the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of light and life without end. Today, the Church celebrates the miraculous motherhood of Mary, in which are united two incredible wonders of God: the first, more human, is the birth of Jesus from a virgin through the Holy Spirit; the second, wholly divine and unfathomable, is the divine and human Nature of He who is born from Mary, at the same time the Son of God from all eternity and the Son of Mary in time. From this great mystery derives the tradition of the Church to call Mary "Mother of God".

Here is the blessing of God to all mankind! God has chosen a Jewish woman and a son, a Jew, to make them the depositories of His divine gifts for all men, to the Jews first and then to all the nations. This is the gift of the forgiveness of sins and the deification of all flesh, because flesh and blood - every flesh, whether Jewish or Palestinian, or American, or Chinese - cannot inherit the Kingdom of God, except if reborn by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus and the gift of the Spirit.

The Church of Jesus Christ, the depository of this divine blessing for the world, has the mission to proclaim this blessing and to invite every person to partake in it. For this reason, the Church of Jesus Christ, in which we are servants, is directed to all men without distinction of race and nation because Jesus, the Son of God, is the Savior of all races and all nations. Thus, the gracious face of God shining on the face of the believers is closely joined to the face of Jesus and Mary; to the face of Jesus, which John says is full "of grace and truth" and that "from his fullness we have all have received grace upon grace"; and to the face of Mary that the angel called "full of grace". Through Mary and Jesus, the fruit of her womb, all nations are blessed by God, thus fulfilling for all nations what God promised to Abraham, that in his seed all nations would be blessed.

To this state of the blessing of God to all people, equivalent to the work of Christ, truly welcomed and lived in every man, we must add another biblical fact which surrounds this blessing. For it is written that the Light of God (the Son) shines in the midst of a darkness that has fought it, so that the light would go away from the world. But the darkness could not defeat it. The Son has remained in the world to bring his blessing of salvation to those who welcome it at any time in human history (John 1:5-18). But what happens when the Blessing of God in the incarnate Son is not accepted? In this case, the rejection of the blessing strengthens the domination of the spiritual darkness in the hearts and minds of men. This darkness is manifest in different ways in what is "dark" or "evil" in human relationships. We want to say that the darkness that surrounds the face of the earth is not only of a "human" type, linked to envy, jealousy, hatred, rivalry, unrestrained greed, wars, disputes of every kind that men have with each other.  It is also a "theological" darkness, stemming from the lack of knowledge of the true face with which God has chosen to reveal Himself to all mankind, that is, the face of his Son, Jesus. Whoever does not know or recognize the true face of Jesus as the face of the Son of God made man is in darkness compared to the true knowledge of the face of God.

Jerusalem seen from the Mount of OlivesWe are here in one place, the land of Israel, where the theological light and darkness about which we are talking seem to have given each other an appointment. Here the Christians gather in order to receive more blessings from their God and Father, through Jesus Christ and Mary, his Mother; at the same time, here live the Jews and Palestinian Muslims who still cannot receive the blessings of God through Jesus, the Messiah, because they do not believe in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. This creates a great tension in the spiritual-human world, which is reflected in the great tension that exists in the inferior world of politics and civil society.

For centuries, the Jews’ failure to recognize the Son of God led them not to recognize the Christians as "People of God", elected from among the nations and joined to Israel in virtue of its roots; at the same time, the Christians no longer considered Israel as “People of God" because of its rejection of the Messiah. What enormous political consequences and civil conflict this theological tension has caused! The same Jesus himself prophesied that the wrath of the God of Israel, His Father, would fall upon His people, unbelieving Israel, in an even more terrible way than the earlier destruction of the First Temple and deportation of the Jews to Babylon. God used the Roman Empire to carry out his punishment upon Israel. The temple was destroyed, never again to be rebuilt, and the Diaspora of Israel among the nations began, to continue until the end of the time of the Gentiles. In the twentieth century, however, after twenty centuries of Diasporas, we have seen the same God of Israel, who had scattered his people among the nations, working to rebuild them as a nation and bring them back to live in the land of their forefathers. The twentieth century had at its center an event of such a great magnitude that only the major biblical events are comparable to it. In fact, the reconstruction of Israel as a nation and its return to the land of its forefathers are two major biblical events, witnessing to the struggle between God and Satan in the era of the domination of an atheism which no longer recognized either God or Satan. On the one hand, Satan tried to annihilate Israel through his loyal executioner, Hitler; on the other hand, God reconstituted His people as a nation and led them back to live in the land of their origins. Now that the Church has definitively abandoned the replacement theology that denied the title of "People of God" to Israel, we can and must speak in these terms. For this reason, we cannot judge in a purely political terms the return of Israel; we must also consider it from a biblical and theological perspective. Let men continue to judge the events of history through a mere political lens. They are blind leaders of the blind! They have neither wisdom nor prophecy coming from God. Whoever has intimately understood that the God of Israel and the God of the nations are one and the same God, reigning over Israel and over the nations forever and ever, understands the reign of God over Israel and the Nations.

Why this return of Israel to the land of their forefathers? Here also there are not only political and ethnic reasons. The main reason is theological and biblical. This is because, in the plan of God’s rule over history, Israel has a great role to play in preparing the nations for the return of the Messiah in glory. In the twentieth century began the great epochal change preparing mankind for the conclusive event of history: the final coming of the Kingdom of God, for which all Christians pray every day, saying: Thy Kingdom come!

The return of Israel as a nation in its land did not happen painlessly and peacefully for the Palestinians who occupied it. The Palestinians have felt unjustly driven away from their land, resulting in strong and political religious tensions which continue to this day. In terms of justice and respect for human rights, we raise our voices against Israel, the new dominant state in this land, whenever the need to impose its rule deprives Palestinians of basic human rights. At the same time, we raise our voices against the Palestinians when, inflamed by hatred against Israel, either for political, racial or religious motives, engage in brutal acts of terrorism in the foolish attempt to respond to suffering with more suffering, and to destruction with more destruction. And so the spiral of violence and hatred grows endlessly. This is the result of human sin, not of the will of God. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians none can justify crimes against justice by using the Word of God. On one hand, Israel has the duty to give a dignified existence to the Palestinians in their land; on the other the Palestinians must recognize Israel’s legitimate political possession of their land, a right that was also recognized by the United Nations, and also abstain to foment hatred against Israel as an attempt to annihilate it, just as Hitler failed to do.

In the field of the relations between Christians and Muslims, still today the fanatical and fundamentalist Muslim world, which seems to manifest itself today under the guise of the so-called "Arab Spring", continues to display manifestations of anti-Christian hatred, creating pain, tears and martyrdom among Christians. In the words of a psalm, truly "we are killed every day for your name!", but we are not afraid to shed our blood so that the Kingdom of God may come soon!

The competence of the Church, however, does not lie in the political and civil questions, but rather the divine ones, linked to the salvation of men and of the recognition of the true face of God. Its primary task is to continue to bring to every nation the knowledge of the true Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the work of the Most Holy Trinity, namely, the salvation of every person in Jesus and His Church. Even though precisely because of this we are being killed every day! But we know that the martyrs of God are already reigning with Christ in heaven. Even more: with the increase of the number of martyrs, the day of Christ's return to earth is also drawing nearer, for the resurrection of the martyrs and all the righteous and the final condemnation of the wicked (Rev 6: 9-10).

Secondly, the Church also works for peace and justice on earth, even among those who do not have faith in the blessing of God through the Messiah.  The Church thus refers to the criteria of human justice, often present in international treaties, to point to the rules to be followed to resolve the political and civil issues pertaining to coexistence among peoples.

What blessing of God do we invoke from this place for Israel, for those who live there, and for all the Nations? It would be hypocritical, after hearing the message of the Angels to the shepherds and the testimony of the shepherds, to hide the fact that the greatest desire of the Church that celebrates these mysteries for the glory of God, is to see all Jews and all Arabs, who for various reasons don’t believe in Jesus the Messiah, open their hearts to Jesus and to receive his salvation. This is the mission that the Church has received directly from its founder, Christ, in every place where it is present.

The Church would like to thank the State of Israel in its allowing the celebration of the fundamental rites of the Christian faith in this land, where Jesus was born, died and rose again. It permits this even though the majority of Jews do not believe in Jesus as Messiah of Israel. The Church also thanks the State of Israel for giving the Church freedom to express its dissent on its policies, when these are judged to be not in keeping with the criteria of justice towards the Palestinians. This freedom testifies to the democratic climate that prevails in the present State of Israel. Nevertheless, the service of the Church in the land of Israel remains above all religious, social and charitable, according to its faith and in obedience to the commandments of Christ.

We hope that the freedom to celebrate publicly the Christian rites be also given to all Christians in Muslim countries, without fear of being persecuted for their faith or of having other restrictions placed in their participation in civil and public life.

The main concern of the Church in every place where she carries out her mission is that every person should be reached by the blessing of God in Jesus Christ. Hence the main prayer that today we direct to the Father of light: Father, who loves all people and gave your Son as the Savior of mankind for the salvation of all, we pray you: continue with power in this year your work of opening the hearts to the blessing that you give to each person through a sincere and living faith in Jesus Christ, Your Son. For this we pray. Hear us, Father.

We are also concerned that the social and political life of the peoples of these places may be conducted in peace, harmony and justice, and for this we pray: Father, eliminate hatred, resentment, the spirit of revenge, the anger in the hearts of Jews and Palestinians, and create a peaceful coexistence together in the same land, as a gift of your love for all people, waiting that these may open themselves to receive the greatest blessing that You want to give them, which is not of this earth, but for the eternal life and resurrection in the flesh. For this we pray: Hear us, O Lord!

May Christ always be the Light of the Nations and the Glory of Israel!

Fr. Carlo Colonna was a Jesuit priest. He lived in Bari, where he was spiritual assistant of a charismatic Covenant Community, the Community of Jesus, engaged in ecumenical dialogue with the evangelical-Pentecostal, Anglican, Orthodox worlds, and with the Messianic Jews. He was a preacher, author of religious songs and writer of numerous books on spirituality and catechesis.

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