The Return of the Messiah, in Preston

POST BY PRandall

Fr Peter Randall SJ, a Jesuit priest based in Preston, spoke about The Second Coming at a seminar with a Muslim scholar. Here is a blog he wrote about the event.

Before presenting the Catholic view of the Second Coming at a banqueting venue in Preston, I sought a briefing from the owner of a very small sandwich / curry shop near to St Wilfrid’s Church (pictured). He was helping to organise the event and gave me some posters, and an invitation to dine at his shop at my leisure.

I managed to watch the first episode of the new the Netflix production Messiah with a Lebanese woman, Antoinette, who’s been very generous in helping me to learn a bit of Arabic. There is apparently a very provocative twist to the tale, at the end of the series of episodes, but I’ve not yet caught up with that climax.

The banqueting venue lived up to its name, and it was as though I had entered a wedding reception. I did indeed receive a warm reception, and was shown to a top table where Shaykh Asrar Rashid was preparing his input. Meanwhile, a few parishioners from St Wilfrid’s had arrived, and their mingling with the Muslim attendees revealed that large numbers were expected owing to the renown of the Muslim scholar, and the fact that large amounts of biryani were on offer. With that boost to my confidence, I took to the stage next to the Shaykh.

After impressive recitations of the Koran in Arabic and Persian about the prophet Jesus, which included young men from the Sufi tradition, I was first up, having had my academic credentials read out. The first thing was to thank the organisers for the invitation, and to stress that we were altogether to understand God’s gift of revelation, and the gift that we can be to each other. I was also able to mention Preston Citizens as a developing way to help local faith communities to connect in community organising, and also the emerging possibilities of sponsoring a Syrian refugee family, with the possibility of further practical collaboration between faith communities.

I felt surprisingly at ease, given the welcome, and despite the presence of 250-300 participants, mostly grouped spontaneously into men and women. The key image was now ready to be unleashed, in which a young man was coached on how to throw a ball of red string, while holding onto one end, towards another young organiser towards the back of the lined-up seating. He did so without causing any damage, and the audience seemed to enjoy the show.

All this was to demonstrate what Raymond Brown refers to as the trajectory of God’s purpose, as interpreted by the Christian position. In order to throw the ball of string the young man had to reach back, as the New Testament reaches back to the Hebrew Scriptures. The launch and subsequent trajectory represented the ongoing revelation of God, in Jesus Christ, which for Catholics includes the Church’s sacred tradition and teaching. I noted the changes in the Church’s teaching over several recent decades, with regard to a literal translation of Sacred Scripture, and this was a point which seemed to spark up interest. 

I made various references to the New Testament, about the themes of expectation, being “put to the test” as in the Our Father, the vivid imagery of apocalyptic genres, and the various images of God in the last judgement. I’m indebted to one of the members of my Jesuit community who said “remember the Good Samaritan”, citing the promise of the Samaritan to make good (on his return) any further expenses incurred by the innkeeper. The Resurrection of course had to be included, and was raised in questions. In connection with this, Shaykh Asrar Rashid pointed out the difference between Muslims and Christians.