On Saturday 28 October, Bishop David celebrated Mass in honour of Our Lady, Queen of Palestine with the Equestrian Order of the holy Sepulchre. Here is his homily from that Mass:
There are many of us who struggle to hear news of violence and suffering. We may ask ourselves, where is the Lord in all of this? Why do innocent people have to endure this experience? How may we pick our way through the delicate political traps within the media discourse? Well, we do not escape such questions when we place ourselves into the Gospel setting. The Gospels are always putting before us, the tragedies of political life in First Century Palestine, along with the every day individual challenges of ordinary people.
Our Lord’s response to these situations may be summed up in the third Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, the Proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the Call to Repentance. Repentance is always a turning away from some situations, and a turning towards Jesus. Today we celebrate the Feast of two apostles, Simon and Jude. They are already disciples. After spending the night in prayer with His Father, Jesus calls them to accompany Him. They are to witness the realities of God’s Kingdom.
And when they do this, there is a new understanding of time. In Luke’s Gospel, a fruitless fig tree for three years, is given fresh hope for the coming year. We may recognise some fruitless situations in our world today, not least in the Holy Land. Our Christian instinct is to turn to the Lord in expectation of His grace. Many have commented on what is happening at this time in the Holy Land. I want to share with you, a uniquely Christian perspective, some words of the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, in a pastoral letter to his diocese this week:
‘Yet, I cannot live this extremely painful time without looking upward, without looking to Christ, without the faith that enlightens my view and yours on what we are experiencing, without turning our thoughts to God. We need a Word to accompany us, to comfort and encourage us. We need it like the air we breathe.
“I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have tribulations, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (Jn 16.33).
We find ourselves on the eve of Jesus’ Passion. He addresses these words to His disciples, who will shortly be tossed about, as if in a storm, before his death. They will panic, scatter and flee, like sheep without a shepherd.
Yet, this last word of Jesus is an encouragement. He does not say that He shall win, but that He has already won. Even in the turmoil to come, the disciples will be able to have peace. This is not a matter of theoretical irenic peace, nor of resignation to the fact that the world is evil, and we can do nothing to change it. Instead it is about having the assurance that precisely within all this evil, Jesus has already won. Despite the evil ravaging the world, Jesus has achieved a victory, and established a new reality, a new order, which after the resurrection will be assumed by the disciples who were reborn in the Spirit.’
I know that the knights and dames of the Holy Sepulchre will have reflected upon everything the Patriarch has said in his Pastoral Letter. There are some challenging things to consider there. But it seems to me, these particular words I have shared with you, invite us to enter more fully into Jesus’ own experience. This is the experience of One who has been sent by the Father. His whole life was oriented towards the Hour of His Passion, Death and Resurrection. This gives Him the meaning of His life and the perspective on things which must be adopted by His disciples.
The call of apostles is an invitation to be filled with hope. Pope Benedict XVI spoke to us of hope in his encyclical letter, On Christian Hope. He says this, ‘To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope. We who have always lived with the Christian concept of God, and have grown accustomed to it, have almost ceased to notice that we possess the hope that ensues from a real encounter with this God.’ (SS3) He goes on to tell us that Christian hope is not individualistic. It is a social reality. We might learn from these words of Pope Benedict, ‘While this community-oriented vision of the “blessed life” is certainly directed beyond the present world, as such it also has to do with the building up of this world—in very different ways, according to the historical context and the possibilities offered or excluded thereby.’ (SS15)
I find these perspectives very important for an entering into the authentic repentance called for by Jesus. What are the stronger realities which define our Christian discipleship today? Do we know the hope which is the fruit of our relationship with Christ? And is our understanding of the journey of salvation somewhat individualistic? Whenever we take a flight, we are reminded to put on the air mask ourselves before assisting others. This may work well on a plane. I am not sure it serves so well in the Christian life. First we must attend to those who are suffering in Israel and Palestine, through our prayer and fasting, through our support of the work of the Latin Patriarchate. And then we will find our own salvation.
Hope and peace are intimately connected. And the bond between them is Christian agape love. I cannot speak of love, without mention of my favourite saint. Little Therese of Lisieux discovered her vocation to be love at the heart of the Church. Pope Francis has recently written of her in an Apostolic Exhortation, On Confidence in the Merciful Love of God. Permit me to finish these humble reflections with some words of Pope Francis about Therese. They may guide our prayer for the Holy Land at this time:
‘In an age that urges us to focus on our ourselves and our own interests, Therese shows us the beauty of making our lives a gift.
At a time when the most superficial needs and desires are glorified, she testifies to the radicalism of the Gospel.
In an age of individualism, she makes us discover the value of a love that becomes intercession for others.
At a time when human beings are obsessed with grandeur and new forms of power, she points out to us the little way.
In an age that casts aside so many of our brothers and sisters, she teaches us the beauty of concern and responsibility for one another.
At a time of great complexity, she can help us rediscover the importance of simplicity, the absolute primacy of love, trust and abandonment, and thus move beyond a legalistic or moralistic mindset that would fill the Christian life with rules and regulations, and cause the joy of the Gospel to grow cold.
In an age of indifference and self-absorption, Therese inspires us to be missionary disciples, captivated by the attractiveness of Jesus and the Gospel.’
Our Lady, Queen of Palestine. Pray for us