Dear and beloved Cardinal Grand Master
Dear members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre
Dear brothers and sisters to be invested as Knights and Dames
Let me ask two very basic questions. What does it mean for us to keep vigil tonight? What does it mean to bless the robes and insignia of those to be invested as knights and dames tomorrow?
Putting it simply, I think it means this: we keep vigil in order to raise our hearts and minds in prayer to God our Almighty Father. We pray that our hearts might be so enlarged by God’s love that we might reach out towards the needs of others. We pray for the gift of that sacrificial loving modelled by our Lord and revealed in his own selfless loving on the cross. At our baptism we died and rose with Christ. We were clothed in Christ as a new creation, so as to bring our Christian dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven. Keeping vigil means preparing to be clothed again, this time with the ‘vesture of solidarity,’ the outward signs that demonstrate our yearning for deeper union with Christ; that show, spiritually and materially, our standing closely alongside the Church in the homeland of the Lord Jesus, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart.
Uniting ourselves with the Christians of the Holy Land, we pledge to witness, through our support, that they are not forsaken. By our prayers, donations, and pilgrimages, we refuse to allow them to be abandoned. Together with our brothers and sisters in faith we share the hope that comes from discipleship of the Lord Jesus. We really and truly do believe in the victorious power forever released by his wondrous resurrection, do we not? We want to know the Lord Jesus personally and to grow in holiness of life. Our common faith creates a genuine bond which transcends geographical distance. In some sense, in the imagery of the Prophet Isaiah, we have become ‘wedded’ to the hopes and fears of the Church where our Saviour was born, where he lived and ministered, where he was crucified, died and was raised to life.
With some other members of our Order, I attended this week the commemoration of Red Wednesday in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Cathedral in London, organised by Aid to the Church in Need. We heard, first-hand, about the contemporary persecution of Christians around the world, presented in the up to date report entitled Persecuted and Forgotten? Pope Francis reminds us that ‘the age of martyrs is not yet over.’ For some there is the final martyrdom of death for Christ; but for others there is the living martyrdom of continuous persecution because of Christ, in greater and smaller ways. Dear friends, we can never be indifferent to the suffering Church. In particular, we who belong to the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, cannot, and will not, be indifferent to the suffering Church in the Holy Land. We will not walk by on the other side. We will not look away and do nothing. We will not accept injustice or discrimination.
In the face of such suffering, the example and teaching of the Lord Jesus compels our hearts to be awakened with compassion. In feeling something stir within us, we must act. Responding to the question about how to inherit eternal life, the Lord Jesus points to the answer given by the law: you must love the Lord you God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself. ‘Do this,’ he says ‘and life is yours.’ A modern translation put is slightly differently: love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence – and love your neighbour as much as you do yourself.
Through a now familiar parable the Lord explains what this means in practice. Such love demands that our inner being is opened to the suffering of others. Such love requires our willingness to bandage the wounds of the downtrodden. Such love obliges a commitment to help the oppressed find healing and security. ‘Go and do this,’ says the Lord Jesus; ‘Go and do this,’ show such love. Being clothed with the vesture of solidarity is our way of saying ‘yes’ to our Lord’s commanding inspiration.
In December last year the Patriarchs and Heads of local Churches in Jerusalem shared their concerns about continuing threats to the Christian presence in the Holy Land. They wrote:
Throughout the Holy Land, Christians have become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups. Since 2012 there have been countless incidents of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, attacks on Christian churches, with holy sites regularly vandalised and desecrated, and ongoing intimidation of local Christians who simply seek to worship freely and go about their daily lives. These tactics are being used by such radical groups in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land.
Dear sisters and brothers to be invested, our membership of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre is not for the benefit of our status. It is for the sake of Christ and the Church and Christians in the Holy Land. Understood in this way, being a knight or a dame shapes a spirituality within us, one that serves our personal growth in holiness and virtue. This, in turn, makes our neighbourly loving authentic and tangible. In a special way, we are bound to the Grand Magisterium in Rome and the mission of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Through our specific calling, being a dame or a knight makes us a ‘good Samaritan,’ and importantly a ‘holy Samaritan,’ someone who, in a direct way, is spiritually and practically united to the clergy, religious and laity – the living stones – of the Land of Jesus.
It is with great joy that we keep vigil with you tonight before our good and merciful God; and that we bless the robes and insignia which will be used tomorrow for your investiture. The Church in the Holy Land needs our prayers and our hands-on support, for our mutual sanctification. We hear Christ say to us ‘will you go and do this?’ And, in humility, with generosity, we say from the heart ‘yes Lord, we will.’
Archbishop John Wilson, Grand Prior of the Lieutenancy of England and Wales