Its difficult if you have not lived through an earthquake to know the fear that it must create. In just a few seconds houses coming down, streets torn up, mighty bridges collapsing. Those same things that have recently happened in Mexico, leave us speechless. A mighty city and land brought to its knees, men and women can be seen crawling like ants over buildings, schools and hospitals trying to find survivors. It is a pitiful scene, many are already dead and countless injured and a city brought to a halt through terrible destruction.
Today at mass the first reading takes us to a place also utterly destroyed, Jerusalem in 6th century BC. They have been invaded, the land and the cities of Israel are destroyed and the great temple of Jerusalem pulled down and burnt to the ground. Ezra, whom we hear of in the first reading, returns with others many years later to this to this scene of destruction and cannot believe what his eyes see. But worse than this is the way the people have set themselves to live. He weeps over the city and the temple and the people. Like the people of our own day the magnitude of the disaster must have seemed appalling, beyond words and must have rendered him speechless.
Some centuries on from these events, St Paul also writes to the community at Philippi that is about to fall down a cliff also and to know a disaster. Like him, they are about to be persecuted and be driven from their homes and for some lose their lives simply because they follow Jesus and are known as Christians. Paul writes words to them before the storm arrives. He goes to Rome to his death but they also are to fall under the sword and nothing will protect them, the storm is coming.
It would be good to live in a world in which bad things didn’t happen but this is not the world that we live in, we are keenly aware of it in these days as we hear of all of the disasters that people have to deal with, but nor is it the world in which other people have had to live either in past times as we see in the readings today. The extremes of weather, wars being waged in lands, terrorisms and acts of violence that flood onto our street are what many people have to face in our own day. Many other people in different times too have had to face great trials, great hardships and terrible situations.
You wonder how people manage to survive or recover after terrible things happen to them, but there is great resilience and courage in people, but it doesn’t take away the awful things people have to endure and often for years and generations even after terrible things have occured.
There is no doubt that faith gives courage and strength. That feeling that God is with you in the eye of the storm can be the thing that gets you through.
Ezra in the first reading starts the clear up of his city, and starts rebuilding the temple stone by stone, starts rebuilding their lives, starts off teaching them anew. St Paul sails off to the next part of his journey towards Rome where he will be put to death, he is not afraid, not down-hearted, not fearful; his community appears string also. Faith can give you something, something which nothing else can give, an inner resolve, a physical and mental strength to overcome things, a power in your heart and in your spirit.
Today people who have experienced terrible floods, massive destruction, wars that seem endless need something of that faith to lift them up, to know that God is with them. We see them re-building their lives and often faith is such an important part of their lives.
They need that faith also to know that they are not alone, that we and other people are with them with them. They need to know that we care, we are not unmoved, we have not forgotten them. They need to know that we hear their cries and we will not abandon them. We hear the and we will surely do all in our power always to respond where we can to the needs of our brothers and sisters to let them know that they are not alone and help is coming.