‘About Zion I will not be silent, about Jerusalem I will not grow weary, until her integrity shines out like the dawn and her salvation flames like a torch.’ Is. 62:1
Every year the Daily Telegraph publishes a top-ten list of words or phrases used in a given year. The phrase ‘Climate-Change’ was the number one phrase for the first decade of the 21st century and still resonates into its second decade. What is even more interesting is what now supersedes climate-change on the list: they are the words ‘Deficit’, referring to the economies of the developed world and the top word is ‘Occupy’ – referring to the occupation of Iraq and the so-called ‘Occupied Territories’. If I was a betting man, I would put odds on favourite for the top word in 2015 to be ‘climate-change’ in light of Pope Francis’ Encyclical, ‘Laudato Si: on the care of our common home’.
It is the concept/theme of this Encyclical Letter, which I would like to use as our reflection for today’s investiture ceremony. When we hear the words climate or environment, what do we think of? We think of certain conditions or surroundings, we think of an atmosphere, or an attitude – all of which are conducive, or not, to growth. In some cases the environment/climate can be controlled – this is to obviously create conditions that are optimum for flourishing, and in other cases climates can be hostile and inhibit growth.
As Knights and Dames of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, as people of faith, we can appreciate the climate or environment in which the seed of faith was sown and nurtured in US over the years. St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (15:4) warned the people of Corinth that ‘Charity without faith is useless’. St. James in his letter (2:14-17) shares similar sentiments; he says, “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?” We all know the answer to that! Sts. Paul and James are reminding us that our faith is profoundly social. We cannot be truly ‘Catholic’ unless we hear and heed the call to serve those most in need. When we do this, then we participate in the Church’s social mission of creating a world of justice and peace.
This MISSION must begin at home. It has to, because Baptism puts us on the road to be missionaries and it is at home we create an environment/climate where faith and mission are nourished and supported by the faith of the ‘Domestic Church’ – the home, or a believing community. When we think of the Gospels – Jesus didn’t say ‘Go!’ He first said, ‘Come!’ He invited the disciples to follow him, to listen and learn from him, pray with him, share in the breaking of bread, grow in understanding, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and only after that were they ready to be sent out. He created a climate wherein they could grow in missionary zeal and the call to witness and evangelise. In the Acts of the Apostles, (Acts 1:8) he said, “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” They started at home and then moved out of themselves and their environment to proclaim the Good News. In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis challenges all the baptised to see themselves as “missionary disciples”. He said, “in all the baptised, … the sanctifying power of the Spirit is at work, impelling us to evangelisation. All the baptised are agents of evangelisation.” In order for mission to be fruitful, initially, we too have to create a climate wherein our own personal holiness and the ideals of the Order can grow and flourish.
How do we go about that? Well, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, in his great essay “In Praise of the New Knighthood” (c.1136) outlined the virtues that should shape the personal holiness of every truly “Christian” Knight/Dame: humility, austerity, justice, obedience, unselfishness and a single-minded zeal for Jesus Christ in defending the poor, the weak, the Church and persecuted Christians. This call is still a call to ‘radical discipleship’ even today.
So, through regular participation in the Eucharist, through daily prayer, the reading of scripture, and works of charity (at home or in the Holy Land) we create an atmosphere or climate that allows this personal holiness and missionary zeal to grow and flourish within us as Knights and Dames.
As Knights and Dames, this does not mean we mission in a vacuum. This leads us to the sub-title of Pope Francis’ Encyclical – ‘Care of our common home’ and specifically the word CARE. As a verb, the word “care” means to be concerned, have a preference, show an inclination, exhibit affection; as a noun, it means concern, maintenance and supervision. Care is an essential human capacity, a virtue that prompts or necessitates action. That is the key – care necessitates action. In Redemptoris Missio, Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical on mission, he spells out the various paths of mission: “service; proclaiming the Good News; respectfully dialoguing with others of different religious backgrounds; engaging culture in light of Gospel values; working for just social, economic and political systems, and praying to God, whose mission it is”. It’s all action: service, proclaiming, dialoguing, engaging, working. Having nourished the spiritual life of its members, the work of the Order prompts us into service, through prayer to God whose mission it is.
What is this service? – in the context of the work of the Knights and Dames of the Order, it is our service of our fellow Christian brothers and sisters in the Holy Land – the many that now live in exile because their home is a ‘hostile climate’ for them and their families, where basic human rights are denied by oppressive regimes and persecution. His Excellency, Fouad Twal remarked on the daily persecution of Christians, we must remember, he said, “every man, woman and child who lives in the Holy Land today, is created in the image of God, is endowed with inherent dignity, and is worthy of respect and esteem. To ignore the dignity of the other ……….. is to live in violation of God’s will for us.” The words of Isaiah in today’s reading should remind us all of the need NOT to be silent about Zion. We should never be silent about the persecution of innocent Christian men, women and children.
St. Thomas Aquinas wisely noted that “….inasmuch as God’s goodness could not be represented fittingly by any one creature, hence we need to grasp the variety of things in their multiple relationships.” Pope Benedict XVI proposed something similar when he observed that the world “cannot be analysed by isolating only one of its aspects….” While as Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem we pray for and support our fellow Christians in numerous ways, we also need a bird’s-eye view of the situation in the Holy Land that observes the multiple inter-relationships that create the climate that is the Holy Land.
Interestingly, in his Encyclical, Pope Francis dedicated a whole chapter to dialogue, followed by a chapter on education. These are the very things Bishop Shomali spoke of during the Lieutenancy’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land last Autumn – the work of the Latin Patriarchate in mutual dialogue with other faiths, and the importance of education. Long term, education is one of the keys, and I think of the work of the University of Bethlehem and the school in Naour supported by the Order and how they foster shared values, moral principles and service of the common good.
Pope Francis put it beautifully when he wrote, “The Earth, our home is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years. We are not God. The earth was here before us and was given to us.” (21) He is inviting all people to act now and protect the environment so that it is sustainable in the future. Likewise, the Christian faith was in the Holy Land before us and was given to us; we now have an obligation to protect our fellow-Christians and to sustain the presence of living-stones in the Holy Land in the future.
Finally, there is a beautiful antiphon of Evening Prayer on Saturday which invites us to: ‘Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem’. Pope John Paul II said, “Peace is not just the absence of war. Like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith.” 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 I include also Iraq, Syria, Iran and more), supporting them financially, supporting projects that invest in the young people of tomorrow, that we continue the work of dialogue and help preserve the Christian faith and holy sites in the Holy Land.
In our Gospel today, Jesus says, “ ….and all because you did not recognise your opportunity when God offered it!” Our service as Knights and Dames of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is an opportunity offered by God to us to serve his people in the Holy Land by creating a climate where all can live in harmony and where the Christian faith can flourish in peace, furthering the mission of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Our Lady of Palestine, Pray for Us.
Fr. Derek Darby KHS