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Homily for the Mass of Investiture of the Irish Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.                                Maynooth, 23rd July 2011

Preached by the Ecclestical Master of Ceremonies, Vy Rev’d Feargal McGrady, KCHS


From Nazareth, where Jesus was conceived of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, I have reached Jerusalem, where “he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried”.  Here in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I kneel before the place of His burial.  (Mk.16:16) “Behold the place where they laid Him”.  The tomb is empty.  It is a silent witness to the central event of human history: the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  For almost 2000 years now the empty tomb has borne witness to the victory of life over death.  With the Apostles and Evangelists, with the Church of every time and place, we too bear witness and proclaim! “Christ is risen”!”

These stirring and unforgettable words of Blessed John Paul II in the Holy Land, during the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, are a powerful reminder for the reason for  the hope that we have.  Our Gospel (Luke 19:14-44) contains a sober warning and yet a hope-filled challenge;

“……they will encircle you and hem you in on every side; they will not leave one stone standing or another within you – all because you did not recognise your opportunity when God offered it”.

Dear friends, you and I, in and through this Order, and in our commitment to our work for the Church in the Holy Land, have been offered a wonderful opportunity to nourish this hope, the hope that we have.

For the 10th anniversary of the foundation of the Irish Lieutenancy of the Order in 1986, the little book, “Deich mbliain ag fas – Ten Years a- growing” was published.  In the forewords, His Beatitude Patriarch Sabbah wrote:

“The Lieutenancy of Ireland, born ten years, has generously contributed to this noble aim, to sustain the diocese of which the Holy Places of our Redemption are at the heart”.

As we celebrate the 25th, the Silver Jubilee of the establishment of the Lieutenancy, at this investiture Mass, those words take on new meaning.

In his foreword, our Grand Prior, Cardinal Brady, wrote:

“The very words, “Holy Land”, touch the Christian heart…. (this work) the preservation of the Christian faith in the Holy Land, is a precious gift to the Church …… recalling memories and engendering a deeper sense of identity, especially as the Lieutenancy expands.  It will help this “vibrant” shoot of an ancient vine “to return to it’s roots and thus develop a renewed sense of purpose, as it grows to maturity within the order worldwide”.

This is a time also to remember those of our Lieutenancy who have already gone before us on their journey to the Heavenly Jerusalem.  Those who were instrumental in birthing us:

Archbishop Tom Morris who provided us, since the Lieutenancy’s inception, with our first official seat, the lovingly restored medieval Abbey of Holy Cross in Co. Tipperary.  His strong spiritual guidance assured a strongly committed Lieutenancy.  In his inaugural sermon, he said;

“the earthly Jerusalem was never more than a provisional depository of the Covenant promises, but in the past it nourished faith and still has the power to do so”.

Think of our first Lieutenant, H.E. Thomas Sheahan, Member of the Grand Magisterium, who “birthed” this vibrant shoot of an ancient vine.  A towering, dignified figure, I owe him such a personal debt of gratitude for the invitation to be part of the Order since 1993!  We think also of his dear wife, Dame Biddy.  And our second Lieutenant H.E. Michael McGrath.

Think of H.E. Prince Lancellotti of the Grand Magisterium in Rome, who wrote just prior to the Inaugural Investiture at Holy Cross in 1986,

“I would like to confirm, ….the joy of the Grand Magisterium,…. to learn that the Lieutenancy of Ireland will become a true reality …… I would like to emphasise  the importance we give to the “Irish Presence” in the bosom of the Order”.

Think of H.E. Cardinal Maximilian de Furstenberg, Grand Master of the time, who graced the inaugural investiture by his presence, a son of the same land of  Godfroi de Bouillon!

Some of you were there and witnessed the birth, or re-birth! You are in our thoughts today.

Over time we have become more and more aware of the connections, spiritual and practical, between Ireland and the Holy Land, from Abbot Adomnan, Eugene – to medieval times when Patriarch Twal’s predecessor, Patriarch Heraclius visited London and may have met our own St Malachy!  Why the Archbishop of Dublin’s medieval residence was called “St Sepulchre’s; now the site of Marsh’s library, and a possible early presence of the Order at Selskar Abbey (Sepulchre Abbey) in Wexford.

Earlier in July I was lucky enough to be able to visit the extraordinary Exhibition in the Reading Room of the British Museum, entitled; “Treasures of Heaven : Saints and Relics and devotion in Medieval Europe”.  It was fascinating.  There was, in the exhibition, a wooden box with a sliding lid, of 6th century Syrian origin, containing, embedded in ancient plaster, stones from the Holy Places.  It was one of the oldest objects surviving, attesting to the collecting of souvenirs even then from pilgrimages to the Holy Land.  The artists knowledge of the Holy Places, even then, is a reminder both of the vitality of the Christian faith at this time and of how widely objects and images of the Holy Places in Christianity were circulated.  It survived owing to the fact it was deposited in the “Sanctum Sanctorum”  the Papal Chapel in the Lateran, in Rome, at an early date.

In the exhibition the Jesuit Priest, Fr. Symondson comments, “All of this (paraphernalia)conceals a theological reality ….. they powerfully demonstrate a desire to understand the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh”.

“Regardless of their authenticity”, explains the Curator, James Robinson, “the works of art  made to contain relics, served as genuine tools to promote piety.  The very visceral nature of (these objects), would have created a shudder of recognition in the observer that Christ was indeed born of a woman.  The consecration of humanity achieved by the Incarnation enabled Christians to become saints”.  Visit the exhibition if you get a chance.

So much for an Exhibition!  But I invite you to consider today, the real, living stones of the Church in the Holy Land.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem,  to whom our Order is intimately linked, through prayers, almsgiving and pilgrimage, the “waiting on the presence”. Shouldn’t this living and present reality of the Mother Church of Jerusalem also cause in us, “a shudder of  recognition”?

The former long-time mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, said “everybody has two cities, his own and Jerusalem”! And thinking of those to be newly invested today, - Francois Rene  the Vicomte de Chateaubriand, in the early 1800’s, wrote of his investiture;

“(I) experienced an almost ecstatic joy: if it is considered that I was in Jerusalem, in the Church of Calvary, within a dozen paces of the tomb of Jesus Christ, and thirty from that of Godfroi de Bouillon, that I was equipped with the spurs of the deliverer of the Holy Sepulchre, and had touched that sword, both long and large, which so noble and so valiant an arm had once wielded, I couldn’t remain unmoved”.

The Mother Church of Jerusalem is eminently present among us today in the person of its Shepherd, Patriarch Twal.  Beatitude, the Irish Lieutenancy will not remain unmoved either by your Churches witness, vitality and forbearance in the midst of so many trials and challenges.

Our commitment to you only deepens, renews and enriches in turn our original commitment to our Baptism and the household of faith here at home.  In encouraging us to sustain and aid the institutions of the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, the prayer we recite daily also urges us to be faithful (to Christ), to His teaching and the teaching of His Church, and to defend them against attacks from any source.

Amply confirming us in our faith Pope Benedict spoke these words at Westminster;

“The Second Vatican Council spoke eloquently of the indispensable role of the laity in carrying forth the Churches mission ….. through their efforts to serve as a leaven of the Gospel …..the Council’s appeal to the lay faithful to take-up their baptism, sharing in Christ’s mission …. To conform their very thought, word and action to Christ, and to work strenuously to defend those unchanging moral truths which, taken-up, illuminated and confirmed by the Gospel, stand at the foundation of a truly humane, just and free society”.

The forthcoming Eucharistic Congress will help us to focus more clearly.  The Church of the Holy Land will be represented there too. Our commitment to the Church in the Holy Land can only serve to underpin our vocation at home.  Both these commitments can only flourish and prosper if we know how to avoid compromise between the Spirit of Jesus and the spirit of the world, to avoid a “false spirit” that deprives the Word of God of its vigour, despoiling the announcement of the Gospel of its force, choking our clarity of vision, robbing us of our ability to discern what is good from what is bad.  In Christ’s compassion, this battle we are part of is profound and subtle.  It is a matter of the interior heart of every man and woman here and of the Church which is at stake … the loss of a supernatural perspective in understanding the Churches teaching role.

Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary, said “An inert laity is only two generations from non-practice.  Non-practice is only two generations from non-belief”.  When did he say this?  In 1948!

Consoeurs, Confreres, brothers and sisters, the growth in numbers and generosity of the Irish Lieutenancy, now 25 years a-growing, testifies to “lamh  De san obair” (God’s hand in the work).

In the presence of the Patriarch, our universal Grand Prior,  and of the dignitaries of the Order, we re-commit ourselves, strengthened with the armour of a hope-filled and active faith:

To “recognise the Opportunity when God (offers) it”.

“The empty tomb speaks to us of hope”, said Pope Benedict as he visited the Holy Places in May, 2009.   ……… “ The hope that does not disappoint because it is the gift of the Spirit of Life.    May hope rise up ever anew ………”.  We pray that the Church in the Holy Land (and in Ireland) will always draw strength from its contemplation of the empty tomb of the Saviour.  In that tomb (we) are called to bury all (our) anxieties and fears, in order to rise each day and continue (our) journey through the streets of Jerusalem, Galilee and beyond, (in Ireland), proclaiming Christ’s forgiveness and the promise of new life.

“Deus lo vult”      “Mar is toil le Día” “God wills it”