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A heartfelt Dominican homily for Friday!

I notice, looking back at my contributions to Times of Israel discussions recently, that I seem to have had a lot to say, in each case things I never planned to say until the occasion arose.

I hope what I have had to say has been positive, supportive, balanced and compassionate. Most of all, at a time of complete craziness and so often utter irrationality, I really do strive with my revered early 20th century guru G.K. Chesterton to say something sane, to exemplify British common sense. Perhaps with G.K. I share and relish a good old fashioned national striving for fairness. Forgive us Brits if so often in the past we have failed.

Well here, dear Jewish friends, I want to offer now something I have written for fellow members of my Dominican Fraternity of the Roman Catholic Church. I hope you don’t mind. Please bear with me – my intentions are good. And there are Christians, in fact many Christians, who want so much to offer you a supportive hug at this terrible time.

Yes, I know – founded in the thirteenth century by St. Dominic the Dominicans (properly speaking, the Order of Preachers) have traditionally been associated with great learning, scholarship, philosophy and theology. St. Thomas Aquinas was one of ours. And yes, he deeply appreciated and learned so much from the great Rabbi, Maimonides. And indeed Muslim thinkers such as Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd). Without his love for and admiration of these philosopher-theologians – these saints – Dominican thought would have been a mere shadow of what it has become.

But there is nevertheless still a shadow of a different sort. In spite of their great learning and often impressive saintliness, indeed because of their great learning and notwithstanding occasional attempts to soften the nastiness of others, the Dominicans have also been linked historically with the Inquisition. Not exclusively so. Franciscans and Augustinians, for example, were also often employed as Inquisitors. But perhaps because of their reputation for sheer intellectual brilliance it is the Dominicans that have most often been tainted by inquisitorial association. Learning can so easily become arrogant aggression!

I am so sorry, dear Jewish friends. What can I say? I would it were not so. That was then; this is now. I hope and pray for humility. I can offer no excuse here, only personal repentance and a request for forgiveness.

But please – do not turn away our hugs!

And I can offer also my little piece at this time, an exhortation for my Christian Dominican colleagues and their own friends and contacts. For surely it is important now more than ever to spread the word, to get more people standing up for the Truth, dear Jewish friends.

***

Some of us remember how in the ’60s we sung of the ‘dawning of the Age of Aquarius’. Was it in the rock-opera, Hair? Or Jesus Christ – Superstar? Need it matter? Does anyone care anymore?

We were young. Like poor old Wordsworth, no doubt similarly at his wits’ end reflecting ruefully back on what had happened with the French Revolution to his youthful optimism, once a few heads had been lopped off:

Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy! 

For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood 

Upon our side, we who were strong in love! 

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, 

But to be young was very heaven!

The dawning of a new and optimistic age, the Age of Aquarius. I can still hear the echoes of the tune. Some hope we had all those years ago!

But now with conspiracy theories and holocaust denial – behold, the new flat-earthers! Far from the light-filled New Age of Aquarius we seem to have reverted, returned quite literally to the Dark Ages. And this, I should add, at a time when serious revisionist historians exhort us to abandon such a perjorative and unhelpful expression altogether.

For it turns out the Dark Ages were not so dark after all. Not so dark, I fear, as now, the ‘night in which all the cows are black’, to use an expression of Hegel about the Absolute of Schelling. It is also I am reliably informed (was Hegel too, I wonder?) an old Yiddish proverb bay nakht zenen ale ki shvarts – ‘at night all cows are black’. It seems all cows, all partners, are the same once the lights are extinguished! Who cares, once the only thing that counts is one’s own mindless assertiveness, ‘rivers to some sea or another’.

We are sinking into this black hole of holocaust doubt, Shoah denial. Not for nothing, indeed, were Richard Dawkins and his colleagues spoken of as the ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’. Or harbingers of the Antichrist, maybe. But when the ages are dark, ‘better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’!

Jesus answered, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life...” (John 14: 6).

Look – moral clarity need not be difficult. But moral clarity without a ready witness, dear friends, is to wave wildly an unlit candle and hope that the darkness will take notice!

Come Rosa, we are going for our people.

(Jewish Edith Stein – a.k.a. the nun St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross – to her sister on their deportation to Auschwitz)

I want to die in place of this prisoner.

(St. Maximilian Kolbe, murdered in Auschwitz instead of another prisoner Franciszek Gajowniczek. Gajowniczek died in 1995, aged 93, a witness to Kolbe’s Truth worth dying for)

Shoah? Who dares to stand before us and offer before common sense reasons for the obscenity of holocaust denial?

Friends – witness now a light that still shines forth to us – no, shines down the succeeding ages to us with increasing dazzling brightness – from those former times they still have the nerve to call the ‘Dark Ages’:

‘Christus est stella matutina quo nocte saeculi transacta lucem vitae sanctis promittit et pandit aeternam.’

Christ is the morning star who, when the night of this world is past, brings to His saints the promise of the light of life and opens everlasting day.

(St. Bede, d. 735 – ‘Commentary on Revelation’. Do look up online a picture of the tomb of St. Bede in Durham Cathedral, England. His bones are still here. This is his epitaph)

The morning star. The promise of light. Choose life (l’chaim). Everlasting day. Friends – make no mistake! In the new Dark Ages we Dominicans – with our mottos of veritas, Truth, contemplare et contemplata aliis tradere, ‘to contemplate and hand on to others the fruits of our contemplation’, and laudare, benedicere, praedicare – ‘to praise, to bless, to preach’ – we Dominicans have a moral imperative to study, to inform ourselves, to pray, to think long, deeply and well, to engage in conversation and if necessary to argue politely but persistently, and in the light of our commitment to Truth, our deep, passionate, love of Truth that is Reality itself – confronted with the obscenity of Shoah denial – then we really have no choice.

We are impelled by our moral duty to join – on the front line and with our very blood if necessary – our Jewish friends in solidarity with them in this their night, their nightmare.

And look – we can draw inspiration from the great and saintly St. Bede (surely to my mind a better candidate as patron saint of England than the current St. George)! Let us not hide from the Light that shines down to us even from the pagan barbarism of earlier so-called ‘Dark Ages’.

‘From the fury of the Norsemen deliver us’, they said at the time. From the stupidity of the Ignorse-men in their tent-camps, too!

Oops – sorry. Yes, forgive me, that was uncharitable. We Brits try to be fair, but enthusiasts for Chesterton also find themselves so often not far from chuckling. Sorry.

Friends – let’s be serious. We have a moral duty to point out the Light – the blaze of Veritas, Truth, and to point it out very clearly to the dull flat-earthers of our day who would deny the Shoah. Piety to our forebears, our ancestors, to my soldier father captured at Tobruk and imprisoned in Italy and Germany, will brook no such wicked evil in our midst ‘ever again’.

The times ask of us no less. Our children, grandchildren and – as I am lucky enough even now to hug them – my great grandchildren too, expect of us no less. Come on, let’s  get to work!

About the Author
Paul Williams is Emeritus Professor of Indian and Tibetan Philosophy and the former Head of Religion and Theology at the University of Bristol, UK. He is the author of many books and articles mainly on Buddhist philosophy, particularly in Tibet and a professed lay member of the Dominican Order (Order of Preachers) of the Roman Catholic Church. Since retirement he has been particularly involved in support for Syrian and Ukrainian refugees in the UK, and since October 7th 2023 in outreach and support where appreciated for Jewish friends and contacts.
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