Dear brothers and sisters in the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre
Dear Knights and Dames to be invested
Dear friends, one and all
As always, the Gospel takes us back to the homeland of the Lord Jesus. We return to the foundational events of His life and ministry, to the very truths of salvation lived out in His person by His dying and His rising. If we ever become indifferent to the Gospel, think we’ve got it all sussed, or keep it remote, we will have lost something uniquely precious. Reflecting on the past fifty years our Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, said recently ‘while we often focus on all that has changed […] much remains unchanged, including the Gospel of Christ and His teaching.’[i]
It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve heard the Gospel proclaimed. Or how many times we’ve read it for ourselves. It matters that it remains a daily living word, an unchanging gift received in the present moment; a beauty ever ancient, ever new, alive and active within us and among us.
As people committed spiritually and materially to supporting the Church in the Holy Land, it’s surely important that we have the right kind of relationship with the Scriptures, and especially with the Gospel of Christ. This isn’t about having a Bible in a drawer or on a shelf. It’s not even about listening to the readings during the liturgy, or following them in our missals, good as these things are. It’s actually about something more. It’s about a deeper level of engagement. It’s about how, each day, the Word of God, takes root in our being; how it sculpts and shapes our discipleship from the inside out. Perhaps we can challenge ourselves with a simple question: really, and honestly, how indispensable to me is the Word of God? And if it is, in some sense, indispensable, how is this known and shown and shared in my life?
In the verses just before the Gospel from St Luke we heard today, the Lord Jesus had accompanied the two Emmaus bound pilgrims, walking alongside them, listening to them, explaining the Scriptures and staying with them for the breaking of bread. This encounter with the risen Lord transformed these two escapees into evangelists. They no longer wanted to flee, but returned to Jerusalem reinvigorated and revitalised for missionary discipleship. We know their story of what happened on the road and how they recognised the Lord Jesus in the broken bread. This intensely Eucharistic encounter of Word and Sacrament changed them and propelled them forward.
What follows is the powerful meeting with the risen Lord recounted just now. The sight of His wounded hands and feet helped convince the disciples that the same Jesus who was crucified was now risen in His flesh and bones. There is nothing ghostly about the resurrected Christ. Ghosts don’t eat grilled fish.
All that happened, explains the risen Lord, fulfilled the Scriptures as they were then known – the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms. But there was more. The Lord opened the disciples’ minds to see in these Scriptures Himself foretold and salvation won. He who suffered, rose from the dead; so that forgiveness could be preached to everyone by His witnesses. What we hear in the lives of the disciples is true for us in the Church. We who meet Christ in faith, through His Spirit, must understand the Scriptures so that we can witness to the Good News of God’s love and mercy.
When the Carmelite Fr James McCaffrey visited Mother Teresa of Calcutta, she was washing tenderly the face of a man with leprosy. As she continued she glanced across to the waiting priest and said: ‘We need the Word of God for this.’ Reflecting on his experience, he wrote, ‘I had loved Scripture, studied it, taught it, written about it. But here was a woman of deep and simple faith. She really listened to it, lived it, and put it into practice. It had borne fruit in her life…’[ii]
We must understand the Scriptures so that we can witness to the Good News.
This is exactly what happened in the Acts of the Apostles.
The Lord Jesus ‘opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.’ This is our desire today and every day. As the Catechism reminds us, Christian faith is not a ‘religion of the book.’ No, Christianity is the religion of the Word of God, not a mute and written word, but the Word which is incarnate and living. If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, says the Catechism, then Christ, the eternal Word of the living God must, through the Holy Spirit, ‘open our minds to understand the Scriptures.’ (cf. CCC 108)
What might this mean for us – as disciples, as knights and dames, as those to be invested?
A few years ago I was in Rome for a clergy pilgrimage – in-service – retreat, the ecclesiastical term for a subsidised holiday. I picked up a book of reflections on the priesthood written by Cardinal Francis Arinze to commemorate his fiftieth anniversary of priestly ordination. He titled the second chapter Four Loves of the Priest: love for Jesus Christ, for Holy Scripture, for the Church and for Our Lady.
It was the simplicity of the Cardinal’s words which made them so demanding. Considering the priest’s love for Holy Scripture he wrote: ‘The inevitable question follows: How much time does the priest give to Scripture reading each day? … If he tries to excuse himself by pleading lack of time, could one ask him how much time he gives each day to the newspaper, the television and the internet? Is the priest serious when he suggests that he cannot dedicate fifteen minutes to Scripture reading every day?’[iii]
Let me make his last sentence more inclusive: Is the disciple serious when he or she suggests they cannot dedicate fifteen minutes to Scripture reading every day? Is the knight or dame serious when he or she suggests they cannot dedicate fifteen minutes to Scripture reading every day?
‘Are we truly pervaded by the word of God?’ asked Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. ‘Is that word truly the nourishment we live by, even more than bread and the things of this world? Do we really know that word? Do we love it? Are we deeply engaged with this word to the point that it really leaves a mark on our lives and shapes our thinking?’”[iv]
Prayerfully pondering the Word of God brings understanding and wisdom. It confirms our Christian identity and nourishes our missionary spirit. The Lord Jesus desires, in our prayer, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to interpret and explain to us the things concerning Himself in the Scriptures. He wants to teach us the meaning of His life, His cross, and His resurrection. He longs toshow us Himself foretold in the passages of the Old Testament and to reveal Himself, especially through the Gospels, in pages of the New.
How might we take a simple step forward? Here’s a suggestion. Take a short passage of Scripture each day, and allow the words to sink gently into your mind and heart, one at a time, ‘like honey into bread.’[v] Doing this we unite ourselves more closely to Christ. It strengthens our bonds of faith and communion with each other in the Church and, not least, with our brothers and sisters in the Land of the Gospel.
The Lord Jesus ‘opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.’
Lord Jesus, please open our minds – and hearts – to understand the Scriptures
Most Rev John Wilson KC*HS
Archbishop of Southwark & Grand Prior of the Lieutenancy of England and Wales of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem
[i] Queen Elizabeth II, Message to the Opening Session of the 11th General Synod, 16 November 2021.
[ii] Mark Davis, Glimpses of the Carmelite Way, 2007, 31.
[iii] Francis Arinze, Reflecting on Our Priesthood, 22.
[iv] Letter of Pope Benedict XVI Proclaiming a Year for Priests, 16 June 2009.
[v] Leonard Boase, The Prayer of Faith, 71.