Do not be afraid, take courage


In the Lauriston Jesuit Centre we have just completed an interesting, challenging and stimulating series of four lectures on the values which are inscribed on the Mace in the Scottish Parliament. These same values are also at the heart of the Curriculum for Excellence being adopted by schools in Scotland.  What are these values?  Are they values I respond to?  The values are justice, compassion, wisdom and integrity.  These are big words which take a lot of unravelling.  But I imagine that most of us would see them as desirable for ourselves and for our members of parliament. 

The silversmith whose design was chosen for the mace is from the south west of Scotland and is called Michael Lloyd. If you go to the debating chamber in the Scottish Parliament, you will see the elegance of his winning design. It is a lovely piece of work with none of the brutal characteristics of traditional maces.  I actually think it has all the features of a musical instrument.  It has to be played to bring out the melody of its values and to proclaim the relationship it represents. The mace is constructed of Scottish silver with an inlaid band of gold panned from Scottish rivers.  The gold band is intended to symbolise the marriage of the Parliament, the land, and the people. This is the language of covenant, of “ being with”.

But one of the speakers revealed that Michael Lloyd regrets that there was not room for a fifth word, a fifth value.  I was talking about unravelling these complex words, but Michael was looking for a word that would knit the other four together and make them work.  The word he would have liked to include was courage.

I met courage this week. On Monday morning word began to filter through that a Jesuit priest had been dragged out of his house and killed in Syria. Anyone who has been attending to the news has heard of the horrors of living in Homs. I knew we had Jesuits in Syria, and there were concerns about some of them. But I didn’t know we had anyone in Homs, nor had I ever heard of this man whose name is Frans van der Lugt.  As his name suggests, he came from Holland, he was a psychotherapist and had been a missionary in Syria for nearly fifty years. 

Last February, Father Frans  said that he considered Syria to be his home and refused to leave the embattled city of Homs as 1,400 residents were evacuated during a UN operation. "The Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness, inspiration and everything they have. If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want to share their pain and their difficulties," Father Frans takes God’s word of the covenant, ‘I will be with you’ and embodies it in his own staying with the people of Homs.
The Vatican spokesman, his brother Jesuit, Federico Lombardi said Father Frans died as a man of peace, who with great courage in an extremely dangerous and difficult situation, wanted to remain faithful to the Syrian people to whom he had dedicated so many years of his life and spiritual service    "In this time of great sorrow, we express great pride and gratitude for having a brother so close to the most suffering".

In Holy Week, we are brought up close to see the Jesus whose wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity we have admired.  What we cannot now fail to see is his courage as he enters Jerusalem, goes to the garden of Gethsemane, faces the blackness of his immediate future as he prays to the Father. Throughout the trials and the torture, and the degradation of the state execution, his courage shines through. He remembers the word spoken often in the   Bible, ‘Do not be afraid’.  It is a phrase he has used himself to other people, and now at the time of his own fear, he hears that word spoken to him by the Father and trusts in it. The abiding word of God’s covenant is ‘I will be with you’.  The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is for us the clearest sign of God’s desire to be with his people:  Emmanuel.

James Crampsey SJ