Chaplain's News

The film 'The Pianist' won Best Picture at the Oscars of 2003. It is the true story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, who was a celebrated classical pianist in Warsaw during the 1930s. He came from an affluent and intellectual family. Like all Jews of Warsaw, in November of 1940 the Szpilmans are herded into the Jewish ghetto. Unlike most of the others Wladyslaw comes out each day to work as a cocktail pianist in a Warsaw café. Polish Jews and Christians remember and admire his playing. So much so that in the summer of 1942, while the rest of his family are deported to Treblinka, Wladyslaw is rescued from the train by a Jewish collaborator. The Polish resistance hides him in Warsaw. When his whereabouts are discovered, Wladyslaw goes on the run and survives in a city that barely survives the war.

Towards the end of the film there is a magnificent scene where the now-skeletal Wladyslaw is caught by a Nazi army officer hiding in one of the few Warsaw houses left standing. He asks Szpilman what he did for a living, and then invites him to sit and play the piano in the drawing room of the house. In the midst of the almost total destruction of the world around them, Wladyslaw enables beauty to have the last word over the horror of war. It changes both men. It's the first time the pianist has played in years, and his concerto touches something human in the German soldier that leads him to protect Wladyslaw.

In today's Gospel we get a very vivid picture of how the end of the world might break in upon us. It's clear that Mark thought it was going to happen in the lifetime of some of his hearers. It didn't, and many generations later we're still waiting.

This is not to say that the reign of God doesn't regularly break in upon us. Wladyslaw's playing shows how music can do it. We believe that every day more good is done in the world than evil; else this world would destroy itself. And we hold that the source of all love is Christ. So, every time we are kind rather than cruel, patient rather than intolerant, generous rather than selfish, beautiful rather than ugly, the reign of God burst into our lives.

Remembering that Mark thinks the end of the world is soon, that his community is being persecuted for their Christian faith, and that Christianity has not spread all that far by the time he writes this Gospel around AD 65, it's somewhat surprising to read that the elect might be made up of people who come from the ends of the earth. We can safely assume that at this time not many people, beyond the Mediterranean basin, had heard about Christ. Even if this more generous and inclusive reading is not what Mark means when he refers to this world, it would be mean-spirited of us to imagine that all he means in reference to the elect in heaven are only those professing Christians who had died in his lifetime.

The more consoling reading of who is in the elect is to understand it as including anyone, anywhere, whose life enables faith, hope, love, beauty, justice and peace to break in upon the world.

The question of when all this will take place hangs unanswered. There is a tension in the Gospel. Jesus first says that it will happen in the lifetime of 'this generation' but then he asserts that no one knows the day or the hour - not even he - but only the Father.

Speculation about the end time may not be foremost in believers' minds in today's fast paced global environment. But when we experience tribulation, the question of how long it will it go on and what will happen afterward is in front and centre. May the fig tree we see in the garden, becoming tender to put forth its leaves this summer teach us to hope in God's everlasting radiance and tender new beginnings come into our lives after refinement in the fiery furnace of suffering.

And so what makes being a Christian so special? We know who's doing the electing and why, and we have each other as we struggle to live out Christ's love every day until he comes again in glory.

Fr Gaetan Pereira SJ
College Chaplain