Homily by Rev Fr Timothy Bartlett, KCHS
at the 2012 Investiture Mass
Your Eminence, Your Excellencies, Members and Postulants, esteemed guests, sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ,
On this very day six years ago, an old book was discovered in a field in County Tipperary. When experts from the National Museum arrived to examine the book, they carefully brushed away part of the earth from the page at which it had been found open. As they did, three words began to appear from beneath that ancient Irish soil for the first time in twelve hundred years – ‘in valle lacrimarum’ – a phrase which means, ‘in the valley of tears’. The experts immediately recognised these words as a line from Psalm 83 in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. They also realised that what they had in their hands was a rare and highly decorated Book of the Psalms. It had been hidden there by monks from a nearby monastery during the Viking invasions of Ireland.
This Fadden Mor Psalter, as it became known, is regarded as one of the most important finds in Ireland since the Ardagh Chalice, nearly two hundred years ago. Among the many interesting features of the book, is that the cover was completely intact. It was also found to contain elements of papyrus. Experts regard this as one of the clearest confirmations yet of a direct link between early Christianity in Ireland and the early Church in the Holy Land. So, our Postulants who are to be admitted to the Order in a few moments time are the latest in a long, treasured and living link between the Church in Ireland and the mother Church of all Christians in Jerusalem and the wider Holy Land.
Much speculation has surrounded the circumstances in which the Fadden Mor Psalter was found. Psalm 83, at which the book was open, is a prayer of yearning and hope from those who had been violently separated from the Temple in Jerusalem. The psalmist speaks of yearning, of even fainting with desire to be back in the presence of the Lord. He then goes on to say, ‘Blessed are those whose hearts are set on pilgrimage to Zion… As they pass through the valley of tears, they make it a place of springs.’ This ‘valley of tears’ is thought to be a reference to the desert valley of Bakka which pilgrims had to pass through on the road to Jerusalem. What the psalmist really has in mind, however, is the pilgrimage of life and that valley of suffering, sorrow, setback and loss that sooner or later, all of us must pass through. For those whose hearts are set on Jerusalem, for those who continue to trust completely in God and his love in all things however, the psalmist is clear - the desert valleys will, in time, become a place of springs.
It is easy to see how a monk violently removed from his monastery would find great comfort in these words. The Viking invasion of Ireland was a particularly sudden and vicious persecution which challenged the very future of Christianity on this island. Perhaps a wise and holy monk left the book open at this page to express his hope that one day, like those who yearned for a return to the Temple, the people of Ireland would rediscover the peace and joy that comes from friendship with God in the Scriptures and in the Eucharistic life of the Church.
Perhaps a monk risked his very life to hide the psalter for future generations because he knew that the greatest challenges to faith do not always come from persecution but when we ourselves become lukewarm or listless or simply forget.
That is why what we do here today is so important. This is why I believe the various Orders of Knighthood and Chivalry still have a vital role to play in the Church. Because if one quality should characterise a Knight or Dame of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem above all others, it is courage. When our predecessors undertook the first Crusades, not only did they give up their possessions to ensure that no-one was in need, like the Christians in our Second Reading, they set off into the unknown with fearless courage. They did so because something of great importance to the patrimony of humanity was at stake. It was the preservation of what we sometimes call today ‘the fifth Gospel’ – the sites of God’s saving activity through his Son-made-flesh in the Holy Land.
Today those sites are largely secured, though the rights and freedoms of the Christian minority in the Holy Land remains a matter of great concern to our Order and to the Holy See. That is why we are so pleased to have with us today Fr Ephraim, from the ancient city of Nineveh in the Diocese of Mosul in Iraq. We assure you Fr Ephraim of the prayers, solidarity and support of the Lieutenancy of Ireland for the people of your Parish and of your Diocese in Iraq. We are grateful for the heroic witness of your faith and the example of so many martyrs like Fr Raheed Ghanni, who inspire us with their gentle, joyful but fearless courage in the face of violent opposition and even death itself.
Our Gospel today speaks of the message of peace. The human family yearns for peace. Yet peace continues to evade us in so many ways. We only have to look at events in Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq to know that the world remains a fragile place. We only have to watch the news from Bogota, Belise and today from Colorado to know that violence lurks in the shadows of even the most developed societies. We only have to visit the school in Rameh where this Order funds a bomb shelter for children to understand that violence is no respecter of persons. And just as we have begun to enjoy the relative stability of our own peace process here in Ireland, the spectre of drink and drug fuelled violence, especially among the young has begun to emerge with particular force.
So why does the gift of peace continue to evade us? Well, in our Gospel today, our Lord points us in a clear direction. Jesus quite literally breaks down in tears when he foresees so many of us who will be too busy, too proud or too tied up in our own success to accept the incredible gift of peace that he offers us, the incredible gift of peace which he himself is. ‘If only you had understood on this day the message of peace. But, alas, it remains hidden from our eyes!’
One of the greatest mistakes I believe we can make about peace is to think it is primarily about human endeavour or political agreement. Shalom, the biblical vision of peace which Jesus offers us is the fruit of a commitment, not just to establishing social order and a fair economy – which is important - but to all that is good, all that is holy and all that confirms our dignity as persons and our freedom and duty to each other as the children of God. This is why the most important of all battles remains that battle that takes place between good and evil every day in our own heart. This is why the vocation we are called to is the universal call to holiness and personal friendship with God. That is why the most urgent renewal that is required of the Church here in Ireland is not of structures and management but of attitudes and values, of conversion of heart and a renewed confidence in proclaiming the reasons for our faith and hope through all the means of communication at our disposal.
In our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah says, ‘About Zion I will not be silent, about Jerusalem I will not grow weary’. In our second reading, we are told that the Apostles won great respect because they testified to the resurrection with great power. In our Gospel, we hear that God weeps because our peace, our joy, our freedom and our salvation is so important to him and so vital for us and our future.
When we hear of Jesus weeping over our failure to accept his offer of peace, something fundamental is at stake here, something that has consequences for each of us and for the future of the world. There can be no doubt that we live in a time when the pressure to forget God or to actively reject God is increasing. There is no doubt that we live in a culture where even those who believe are pushed more and more to the margins or hide the light and truth of our amazing faith out fear of rejection or standing out against the crowd. And yet, in the Gospel of hope we know we have the answer to the yearnings of the women and men of our time. In the victory of Jesus over evil and death we know we have the way of peace. Perhaps what we lack is the courage and determination of our predecessors, not to do battle with the sword of war, but with the sword of truth, and justice and love in the great battle of ideas and values on which the future of our faith and of the world will be set out.
As Pope Benedict has reminded us, ‘the darkness enshrouding God and obscuring values is the real threat to our existence and to the world in general.’ When we reduce morality to a matter of my own opinion rather than objective truth, we undermine the basis of peace. When we develop a culture of rights without corresponding responsibilities, we undermine the basis for peace. When we reduce the human person to a commodity, an accessory, or a means to my own satisfaction and pleasure, then we undermine the basis for peace. When we forget, ignore or reject God or treat religion as a purely private matter, then we undermine the basis for peace. These are the new, often subtle but no less difficult frontiers of the battle between good and evil in which we as Knights and Dames, as followers of Christ, are called daily to take part. About Jerusalem, and all it stands for, we cannot remain silent. About the resurrection and the empty tomb of the Holy Sepulchre, we cannot grow weary.
My dear friends, in a few minutes time, our new postulants will be invested with the robes and insignia of our Order. The Cross of Jerusalem which they bear reminds us that in our Baptism we have been united to the five wounds of Christ’s body and through them to his death on the Cross. This Cross also reminds us that as members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem we are first and foremost witnesses to hope. We are witnesses to that incredible truth that Jesus has won the victory over death and that evil will never have the final word.
The woman who most understands this truth, the women who has walked through the valley of tears with her Son and who continues to walk with his Church through her many tear filled sufferings in this world, is also the woman who teaches that it is in fidelity to God’s will that we find our deepest peace. Mary is the Queen of Palestine, she is the Queen of Ireland, she is the Queen of heaven and she is the Queen of peace.
As I recall the prayer of my own mother each morning as her sons left for work or school at a time of great fear and violence in our own land, as I recall the tears and sufferings and hopes for peace that each of us here carries in our own hearts, let us commend our Church, our Order and our new postulants to her protection and care. As she leads us on our earthly pilgrimage to the new and eternal Jerusalem, may she renew our hearts in the sure and certain hope that that we can trust completely in the promise of her Son, that as we pass through the valley of tears, it will become a place of springs.
Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, Hail our life our sweetness and our hope….