Mass for Northern Region
ST PETER’S CATHEDRAL, BELFAST, SATURDAY, 5 MAY 2012
Readings : Acts 13.44-52; Jn 14.7-14
I welcome you once again to St Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast, from various parts of the country for this Northern Region Mass. For all of us, and for you, Knights and Dames of the centuries-old Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the Region Mass constitutes a moment of worship and of consolidation of identity and mission. Celebrating the Eucharistic liturgy by listening to the Word of God and by re-enacting the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, we are cleansed and renewed in the identity and purpose of our baptismal initiation into the life of Christ and in the dynamic of our specific vocation in life. As ever, at Mass, worship re-charges mission.
The first reading of this Mass, from Acts 13.44-52, records a seismic moment in the historical evolution of the continuum of the Christian faith and its self-understanding. In these lines the author delineates the departure of the seedling Christian faith group from Judaism, its religious womb and cultural matrix. The lines carry hints only of the drama of that severance. From this moment onwards, this good news of Jesus Christ, God’s self-revelation as a God incarnate, a suffering God, was to be proclaimed in mundum universum, to all peoples. It was not a secret society, nor a mystery religion. These lines of the Acts of the Apostles recall the blossoming of the self-identity of those first disciples : the Christian faith, the “way” was a message and a plan of salvation for humanity, for all without exception. As a religious faith, rooted in the historical-personal event of divine incarnation in the human, in the man Jesus of Nazareth, it would always conjugate the universal with the particular, and therefore also with the Holy Land and the Holy Places.
Little did those early followers of Christ intimate the challenges all of this would carry for them and for all generations of believers, including ourselves! In that lies the vitality and personal challenge of the faith relationship with Christ.
From this point of departure from the Jewish matrix onwards, in the continuum of Christian history, unknown terrain, peoples, cultures, concepts, languages had to be encountered, explored, befriended and introduced to the good news of the person of Christ and the world-view of the gospel. This would involve mighty efforts of soul and mind, debates, misunderstanding and manipulations leading into heresies, efforts to clarify leading to Councils, human pride leading to schisms still searching for healing, the counter-witness of intolerance, feud and war, all this leading so often almost to despair, but for the irruption time and time again over the centuries of the prophetic voice calling us to renewal.
The emergence of the Equestrian Order is the fruit of one such irruption of the spirit of faith in Jesus Christ and of its capacity for renewal and its own defence. The four broad aims of the Order unify the universal and the particular of the original location and context of divine revelation in Jesus of Nazareth and the birth of Christian faith from the matrix of Judaism. The development of the Order over the centuries manifests its commitment to proclaiming in truth the saving mystery of revelation and salvation in Christ, to the living out of the good news of the gospel in charitable outreach, in cultural and social action, and to supporting Catholics and Christians in the Holy Land.
In regard to the latter, you are aware as Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre of the plight of minorities in the Middle East and specifically of the difficult context for the Latin Patriarchate and its faithful. The impact of the strife, tensions and unrest on minorities and specifically on Christians in these lands is a concern for Christians everywhere. The Holy See, Bishops Conferences, the Order itself, politicians and public figures continue to mediate and espouse the cause of justice and peace in the region. The region and its problems constitute a challenge for inter-religious dialogue as well as for politics and international relations. Indeed, given the multi-ethnic and multi-religious composition of our societies in today’s mobile and globalising world, the challenges of the Middle East, access to the Holy Places, and peace between Israel and Palestine, may point up a task for the Order in helping to promote a culture of inter-religious encounter and dialogue in local communities, towns and cities.
For almost twenty five years now, we live in a post bi-polar world. After the fall of Communism, searches for a new paradigm predicated on polarity differentiation, led to the profiling for a time of Samuel Huntington’s thesis of the clash of civilisations, between the West and Islam. At the same time of course debate on the relationship between religious faith and the public order was also intensifying on the international stage. Issues such as, religious freedom and its political and legal underpinnings, place and space for the religious voice in the body politic, the interplay of scientific research and religious faith : these issues re-emerged as significant issues for public debate and for conferences in such arenas as, the OSCE, academic conferences (eg. International Conference on Comparative Law, Washington / the work of the European Consortium on Church-State Research) and indeed in conferences held at the behest of government and political institutions (eg Bejing, August 2010).
Here today we might consider the extent to which the Equestrian Order can assist in educating the Catholic public of these developments – through conversation, writing and by helping to promote pastoral events and initiatives to open our experience of faith to energising and vitalising dynamisms in the whole world.
As we seek to incarnate faith in Jesus Christ in life and in society today, it is well to remember that protectionism of any kind ultimately impoverishes. By looking to, connecting with the wider world of Christian life and faith, to the Church universal, to the long traditions of the development of doctrine, of Christian life and Christian practice, we enrich our present. The Order and each Knight is a significant player in this.
Likewise the Order with its ethos and aims has a key role to play in re-awakening a sense in the Catholic and Christian community of the specifica of Christian faith : a sense of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and of the divine plan of salvation (the economy of salvation), the incarnation of God in a human person, Jesus of Nazareth, grace and deliverance from evil and sin, the imperative of universal charity as the litmus test of living faith, prayer and worship. This is a programme for nobility of mind, heart and intellect. It requires chivalrous, courageous and life-long commitment in humility.
I thank you one and all for your dedication to this noble project through your personal engagement in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and for your service and support to the Church of Jesus Christ.