The number of baptisms, ordinations and religious professions is growing in Africa but this is one sign only of the growth of the People of God.
We also look for a growth in the commitment of lay people to take their faith into the market place, the social field and the political arena. And, thirdly, we look to see what influence the Christian people are having in the world where so many have no explicit religious beliefs but they are searching for ways of being true to what they find deep within them.
A report in The Tablet this week describes how young people in Europe prefer to join small business enterprises rather than big companies. They believe that smaller companies have a sharper social sense and are more responsive to vital issues like global warming. The Tablet article traces this social consciousness in part back to a conference called by Pope Francis at the Vatican some years ago. And there is reason to believe the pope’s letter on climate change, Laudato Si, has had considerable effect in feeding into the world’s focus on the climate crisis itself.
When Isaiah called on people to have a social conscience 2,500 years ago he said nothing explicit about keeping the Jewish law. And when Jesus took up his words and told his followers, ‘you are the light of the world’, he did not say you must be baptised in order to shine. Despite the undoubted growth of the Church in numbers in Africa, if this is not combined with an engagement in the struggles of people, which make the whole of society take notice, it will be no more than statistics – a numbers game.
Recently we remembered – 75 years ago – the discovery of the awful state of the survivors of the death camps the Nazis ran during World War Two. As the allies closed in on occupied Poland and Germany they were numbed by what they saw. One of the Jewish victims, rounded up for extermination, was a young Dutch woman called Etty Hillesum. Etty was a deeply reflective person and, instead of hiding in fear as the Nazi police closed in on her, she went about the streets trying to help people cope with the situation right up to the time of her arrest. When eventually they were herded into railway trucks for transportation to the death camps she threw a post card out the window on which she had written, ‘We left the station singing!’
Etty’s light has never ceased shining. But it is important to note she never closed her eyes to the suffering around her. She recognised that God was present in it all. Her God was a vulnerable tender Presence and she spoke to him, ‘You cannot help us … but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last’. Human beings have made a hell on earth but God does not abandon them. He cannot force them to change but he can ‘dwell inside us’. He is the God who is with us and anyone who struggles for justice recognises, even if implicitly, that they are not alone.
9 February 2020 Sunday 5 A
Isaiah 58:7-10 I Cor 2:1-5 Matt 5:13-16