The text below is that of Fr Dereck’s homily on Saturday, July 22nd, 2023
My friends, as we gather to celebrate the investiture of new Knights and Dames into the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, we extend our heartfelt welcome and congratulations to them, and our congratulations to those who received various promotions last evening. Today, we are blessed to celebrate their investiture on the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene, and indeed it affords all of us the opportunity to renew the commitment we made on the day of our own investiture. As a biblical figure, there has considerable confusion about Mary Magdalene down the centuries. She was much maligned, she experienced harsh judgement and condemnation, and yet she is an incredible model for all Christians in living out our personal call to holiness, and indeed our support of the work of the Order. Today, I would like to focus on three ways in which Mary Magdalene encourages and challenges us as members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre: Mission, Charity, and Peace.
Very often when we hear the word ‘Mission’, our eyes glaze over. We have an awareness of the importance of mission, but often-times consider it something somewhat removed from the day-to-day reality of our everyday lives. But to help us appreciate the importance mission, let us look at what we know of Mary in today’s scripture. We know she was the first one to encounter the Risen Jesus on that ‘first day of the week’1 at the empty sepulchre. She was essentially the first missionary of the Church. She was the first one personally commissioned by Jesus to go on ‘mission’ after the Resurrection when He said to her in today’s Gospel, “…. go to my brothers and TELL them.”2 When she meets the apostles, what were her first words? She said, ‘It is the Lord!’3 What was their response? They run,4 eager to understand. To ‘RUN’, as we know, is a verb, it is something active.
When we TELL or speak about the work of the Order, the plight of our Christian brothers and sisters, we should do so with such conviction that it demands/induces a response from the person who hears us speak…. They like the apostles should ‘run’, eager to understand’…..to know more about Jesus Christ!
What is interesting, is Mary doesn’t place herself at the heart of mission……..‘It is the Lord!’ she said. When we want to share with others what our faith means to us, ‘Christ Jesus’ is where we begin. It is for Him, with Him, and in Him we support our Christian brothers and sisters. Like Mary Magdalene, we too are called to be missionaries who, by our faith in the Risen Lord, by the testimony of our lives, and by our concern for one another, actively draw others to Christ. So, Mary is definitely a model of mission as she challenges us to speak of Jesus with conviction, and draw others to Christ!
Mary Magdalene models an essential feature of our charism as an Order. In the gospel, Luke recalls on one occasion how ‘The twelve were with him [Jesus], as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources’. 5
Speaking to members of the Order at the end of a Consulta in Rome, Pope Francis urged the order to ‘Root charitable works in prayer’.6 He said, “We are called to translate into concrete acts that which we invoke in prayer and profess in faith.”7 There is no doubt that Mary Magdalene was schooled in prayer, and it was this that prompted her to provide for others out of her resources.
From the scriptures, she stands in a long line of women who loved and served Christ, who told others about him, who witnessed to the truth of the Gospel, and who became the first teachers and preachers of the Gospel. She cared for the Lord and the Church, shared in his mission, heard his teaching, saw his deeds. Having been fully immersed in the life of Christ, Mary’s charitable works had to be rooted in prayer, after the example of the Master.
During one of his Angelus reflections, the Holy Father said: “Christian charity is not simple philanthropy but, on the one hand, it is looking at others through the eyes of Jesus Himself and, on the other hand, seeing Jesus in the face of the poor.”8 On a profound level, as members of the Order, we are encouraged not just to assist others like Mary Magdalene from our own resources, but to actually see in them the face of Jesus…….to understand and empathise with their plight, to appreciate the challenges, the human story, and to respond with compassion and love. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, in his great essay “In Praise of the New Knighthood” (c.1136) said Knights and Dames should have a single-minded zeal for Jesus Christ in defending the poor, the weak, the Church and persecuted Christians. This call must be rooted in personal prayer, contemplation, Eucharist, and our reading and study of the sacred scriptures.
When I was training here in seminary, we had a professor by the name of Fr. Oliver Treanor, who returned to the ‘Father’s house’ in recent weeks. He composed a text for a litany of the saints, and in the litany, he ascribed an attribute to each saint. When it came to Mary Magdalene, the invocation read: ‘Mary Magdalene, regenerated by love, pray for us’9. She was healed of her physical ailment, her healing brought peace, but because she was ‘regenerated’ by love, her witness was all the more authentic. That is why Mary Magdalene is a model of peace for all of us.
She loved Jesus, whose mercy transformed her life, and as a result she consecrated her life to him and his redeeming work. She faithfully stood with Mary at the foot of the cross, not retaliating to the hatred and violence all around her, but silently she stood upright as a gesture of strength and peace.
As Christians, we must do what we can to foster that peace especially in the Holy Land. Interestingly, Cardinal-elect Pierbattista Pizzabella, the Latin Patriarch, spoke powerfully of the situation in the Holy Land.
He said, “We live in a time marked by violence and death, marked by deep mistrust……The violence against our Christian sites and symbols is only one expression of the more widespread violence that characterises our time. Instead of trying to build relationships, common prospects for growth and development, instead of recognising ourselves as part of one society, we promote exclusion and rejection. Politics, instead of seeking to achieve unity, to promulgate the common good, seems to want to plunge us into a swirl of even greater divisions.” 10 He went on to explain that at one point in time, the divisions were between the various groups – religious/political – in the Holy Land, now they are within and among them. What we have to remember is that even in the midst of all of this, there still exists the seedbed for peace! It is here the proclamation of the Risen Lord, the Prince of Peace is all the more necessary.
The work of the Order in the pursuit of peace in the Holy Land is all the more urgent. There is a beautiful antiphon of Evening Prayer on Saturday which invites us to: ‘Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem’. Pope St. John Paul II said, “Peace is not just the absence of war. Like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith.”11 There is no doubt the faith of our fellow-Christians in the Holy Land is unshakeable.
But they need to know that they are not alone, that we are praying for the Peace of Jerusalem, and throughout the Holy Land, supporting them financially, supporting projects that invest in the young people of tomorrow, that we continue the work of dialogue for peace, and help preserve the Christian faith and holy sites in the Holy Land.
So my friends, without a doubt, Mary Magdalene offers great wisdom and insight for us as we strive to live out our Christian calling. Let us pray that like Mary Magdalene, we may eagerly run to meet the Lord, recognise Jesus in the plight of our brothers and sisters, and never tire in the work of peace.
Mary Magdalene, regenerated by love, pray for us.
- John 20:1
- John 20:17
- John 20:18
- John 20:4
- Luke 8:1-3
- Vatican News, 16 Nov 2018
- Catholic News Agency, 4 Sept 2016
- Catholic News Agency, 23 Aug 2020
- Litany of the Saints, Text: Fr. Oliver Treanor, Music: John O’Keeffe, 2000.
- Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzabella, Homily of Easter Sunday 2022, Jerusalem, Holy Sepulchre.
- Pope St. John Paul II, Apostolic Journey to Great Britain, Coventry. Pentecost, 30 May 1982, n. 2.