Homily of Archbishop Dermot Farrell at the Investiture Ceremony- Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre
College Chapel, St Patrick’s College, Maynooth
25th September 2021
At the beginning of his encyclical, Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the heart of this essential value: “God’s love for us is fundamental to our lives, and it raises important questions about who God is and who we are” (§ 2). Profound theologian that he was, Pope Benedict put before us those two dimensions which are to be found in every aspect of living: that which is given to us—in this case the very foundation of our lives, and that which is asked of us—here to discover who the living God is and who we ourselves truly are. Every life conveys something about God. Every life is a landscape in which God is to be seen—by those who seek his face. The primary question is who we are, and how we act as members of this Order whose “commitment is to … support the Church’s mission in the lands made holy by the Lord’s earthly presence” (Benedict XVI, Visit to the Holy Sepulchre, May 15, 2009).
Pope Benedict—in common with all the popes—calls us to keep before us a sense of what is fundamental. God is to be seen in the contours of our lives because the Holy Spirit continues to make us hear the voice of Jesus who says to us “I was hungry and you gave me food… sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me” (Matt 25:35). The Spirit empowers us to believe, to hope, to continue to be faithful, to the Lord himself. The Holy Spirit is the continuation of the story of the Risen Lord. It is the Spirit who gives us the courage to rise up and follow the Lord, to build up the Kingdom of God wherever we find ourselves. The Holy Spirit is the driving force of the life of the Church and of every member of this ancient lay order whose identity is rooted in the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The Holy Sepulchre is a place of witness to God’s presence and to paradox of that presence: it is an empty tomb. Therefore, like the apostles “we continue to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power.” (2nd Reading).
But there is more: the Spirit enables the members to live virtues like loyalty, fidelity, solidarity, honour, nobility of mind, fortitude, self-denial, defence of justice, truth, and above all faith, hope, and charity which are so central to the mission of the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre. Archbishop Pizzaballa put it this way: “it is the fruit of the Spirit, who gives life and trust, always anew, without ever getting tired” (18th May 2021). The gifts of the Spirit give you the sense of mission, that makes you an outgoing Order reflecting spiritual realities, fostering the practice of the Christian virtues and striving for justice for living communities of the local Church which you carry out in deep communion with the Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
It is this living relationship with our Risen Lord which brings us to this ceremony of investiture. In a new sense, and in a special way, we become connected with the Holy Sepulchre and the Holy Land, and, importantly, with its Church and its faithful, and our responsibility to them.
Our hope is in Jesus Christ—the Christ who died for us, and by dying, destroyed our death. This Christ is alive; he guides the Church and is present to it even now. He is sending each one of us, in our own way, on mission—even now, this very day. Today’s readings are under the rubric of Saint Cleopas. In the gospel, he represents every disciple who is confronted with an Easter faith. Cleopas’s narrow vision prevented him from recognising Jesus—he had not yet learned how to recognise the risen Lord. By journeying with Jesus, by telling him of disappointment and loss, but also by listening to Jesus, to hearing him, Cleopas turns to this stranger and invites him in. “When I was hungry you gave me food…” Like Cleopas we come to experience the risen Lord at the table of his word and at the breaking of bread, when we have opened our hearts to the stranger we meet on life’s road.
What might all this mean for those who are invested as Dames and Knights of the Holy Sepulchre?
First our relationship with Jesus must be a living one. Your call is not just to exist, but to come into a life that welcomes the gifts of God, and shares in Christ’s life. The heart of Christian mission is communion with the Lord who continues to speak to our hearts through his Church, the Body of Christ which is brought to life and kept alive by the Spirit of the Risen One. Without this rootedness in the life of Christ which is given us, our activity—no matter how well intentioned, is in danger of being reduced to activism. The first task for the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre is to witness to the life of Christ, with its good news and its hope, for all people, and especially for the people of the Holy Land who have suffered multiple Gethsemanes and Calvarys.
The Jerusalem cross is emblazoned on the cloaks and insignia worn by the members of your Order. The cross is neither an honorific nor a sign of religious and social status. It is not simply an emblem we wear, but a new way of living. The cross which is central to the Christian gospel and give direction to our way of life, and therefore to the way of life of the Dames and Knights, is God’s word of life to the world. Jesus is blessed, broken, and given for us, to make of us a people who can be blessed, broken and given for others. We are an Order which is taken, blessed, broken and given, just as our Saviour was. We are being asked by the Lord: do you want to be my witnesses? That is at the heart of our calling as Church, and as members of the Order. Therefore, we may find ourselves from time to time nailed to the cross, vulnerable, and suffering. What will make all the difference to us, is that, like Christ we will know that we are not abandoned because we have come to discover that the cross is at the centre of life, and that, through the resurrection, it brings us to the fullness of life.
Like Cleopas, one cannot encounter Jesus and remain concerned with our own issues. Faith that would close its eyes to the suffering of the people in the Holy Land is an illusion. In solidarity with those people, we look at the spiral of violence that prevails in the Holy Land with open eyes. Without looking outward, our spirituality risks becoming a shallow comfort, a form of escape. Mission is at the heart of the Christian life. The Holy Spirit poured out by the risen Christ empowers and directs the outward mission of the Dames and Knights towards the Holy Land, through partnership of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, especially its schools and charitable outreach. We continue to pray that both sides in a conflict that has continued for over seventy years in the shifting geopolitical dynamics will come to the realisation that the only way to justice and peace is the dialogue which leads to reconciliation. As we know from our own land, this is a long road which demands generosity, forgiveness, and acceptance on all sides.
When Knights and Dames go the Holy Land they are pilgrims rather than travellers. When we go there, the reality of the Church in the Holy Land and its people becomes much more alive. You begin to perceive things in your hearts. There is understanding and an empathy that comes through a personal relationship. Individuals can get lost in the numbers killed and maimed. We are not just giving our money, but moving into a deeper communion, experienced and seen by the members of the Order with the eyes of faith. In other words, money—while important—is simply not enough; it is not human enough—especially when the lives and livelihoods of children, and women and men are at stake. In a spirit of solidarity, we are above all else giving ourselves. In this we follow in the footsteps of him who walked ‘the Land,’ and gave his life for the life of the world (see John 6:51). May we not only remember this mystery, but embrace it. May it stay with us (see Luke 24:29) in our work and life together, and lead us to the fullness of its life.