During the Investiture of new Knights and Dame of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in St George's Cathedral on Saturday 18th June, Archbishop Wilson offered the following Homily during Mass.
Dear brothers and sisters in the Order of the Holy Sepulchre
Dear Knights and Dames to be invested
Dear friends, one and all
As some of you may be aware, we had a few luggage difficulties on our most recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Cases went missing on the way out and on the way home; although at least - forgive the pun – in my case, my luggage turned four days after I returned, which, sadly, cannot be said for everyone.
My trouble began at airport security in Luton. Placing everything that might set off any alarms into my hand luggage, I sent the small bag through the x-ray machine. But it was held back. Eventually, two attendants called me over. ‘Sir,’ they asked ‘is there some kind of weapon in your hand luggage?’ ‘No,’ I said, a little surprised. ‘Something has shown up on the screen,’ they said, ‘may we investigate?’ ‘Of course’ I replied. Cautiously, they explored my bag. All three of us were relieved when what looked like a ‘weapon’ turned out to be my pectoral cross.
I was glad my bag wasn’t confiscated or, even worse, detonated. That particular pectoral cross carries a very beautiful image of the Good Shepherd. Like similar olive wood statues, the Lord Jesus stands commandingly. The newly found sheep sits on his shoulders, not cowering in shame, but proudly upright, knowing itself to be both found and safe. In short, knowing itself to be loved.
Allusions to shepherds and shepherding abound in the Scriptures. Their inspiration comes directly from the Holy Land. At the Shepherds’ Fields today, near Bethlehem, you can take a photograph with a shepherd boy and his sheep, all of course for ‘just one dollar.’
Even before the Word became flesh and the Lord Jesus was born among us, God was described in the Hebrew Scriptures as a shepherd. For the Prophet Ezekiel God is the shepherd who takes care of his flock, keeping them all in sight. How important to remember that right now, in this and every moment, the Lord is our Shepherd. God has us in view. God is looking at us. God is looking for us. And God longs to gather all his people into unity. This ancient, timeless truth is much needed in the Holy Land today. God’s desire for his people – for all his people – is harmony and peace.
Ezekiel’s prophecy is instructive. God will shepherd his people high on the mountains and deep in the ravines? What does this tell us? - That no person or situation is beyond God’s love; that no circumstances can hide us from God’s love; that nothing should every cause us to doubt or run away from God’s love. God is a true shepherd. God searches for the wayward and the drifter. God brings home the delinquent. God dresses the wounds of life’s hurts. God strengthens the weak and watches over the healthy. Dear friends, God’s shepherding is a weapon, a real weapon; but a weapon of love and of mercy, of healing and of reconciliation. And God’s shepherding took flesh and blood in Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection.
When describing the Lord Jesus as a shepherd the Greek word ‘kalos’ is usually translated as ‘good.’ But it can also be translated as ‘beautiful.’ The Lord Jesus is not just the good shepherd. He is also the beautiful shepherd, not just beautifully attractive, but beautiful in purity and honour, truly beautiful in heart.
How amazing that our beautiful shepherd leaves everything, the whole flock, to search for one lost sheep. And once found, he lifts it - filthy, soiled and stinking - onto his beautiful shoulders, nestling it around his beautiful head, rejoicing that the one lost is now home. Someone once commented that it makes no rational sense whatsoever to risk leaving the ninety-nine for the sake of just one – unless, of course, that one is you or someone you love.
‘The Bride of Christ,’ said Pope Francis ‘must pattern her behaviour after the Son of God who goes out to everyone without exception. She knows that Jesus himself is the shepherd of the hundred, not just of the ninety-nine. He loves them all. On this basis continues the Pope, ‘it will become possible for the balm of mercy to reach everyone, believers and those far away, as a sign that the kingdom of God is already present in our midst.’ (AL 309)
How our world and our Church, how each of us, needs to believe and witness that repentance is possible, that mercy is available. In Christ, there is always a way back home. I wonder if you really believe this; not just for others, but for yourself too.
A privileged image capturing the beautiful shepherd’s loving mercy is that of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. To this beautiful and loving heart, we are called in contrition. From this beautiful and holy heart we are sent out to be love for others. Christ’s combined shepherding and loving is shown wonderfully in a mosaic in the Church of San Lorenzo Outside the Walls in Rome. The Lord’s Jesus’s heart is shown burning with love as our good and beautiful shepherd carries once lost sheep on his shoulders. The Sacred Heart and the Good Shepherd are inseparable. They speak the same truth.
Isn’t living out this inseparability our vocation as disciples and members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre? To have hearts that are so in love with the Lord Jesus that we help to carry the burdens of our brothers and sisters? Our support for Christians in the homeland of Christ, in some small way, mirrors and makes real his shepherd’s heart of love.
Of the many blessings of last month’s pilgrimage, the visit to Christ the Redeemer Church in Taybeh for Sunday Mass with the parish community stands out. The everyday challenges facing Christians in the Holy Land came home as I chatted to three parishioners after Mass. Their mobile phones pinged. As they looked at the messages, their faces fell. It was a warning from other parishioners not to travel home using a particular road because people were throwing rocks at the cars of people leaving Mass. The normality with which the parishioners relayed this was sobering.
That Sunday Mass had an added significance. Someone who once stayed in accommodation under the parish church was being canonised in Rome that very morning. Charles de Foucauld, now St Charles, loved the Holy Land. He lived in Nazareth for a time, with the Poor Clares, before settling in Tamanghasset in southern Algeria where he was killed. But in 1898, he visited Taybeh and stayed to make a retreat.
If you don’t know anything about St Charles de Foucauld, do look him up. As a young man he was wayward and unbelieving. But the Lord was his good and beautiful shepherd.
Praying through Psalm 23, St Charles wrote: ‘I was very far from the sheepfold and very far from thinking of it; and you [Lord Jesus] came to me, you took me on your shoulders and your carried me back. You did it all, my beloved Saviour.’
St Charles ended by praying: ‘Let me be wild with joy, passionately mad with your love.’ This too is a weapon. I wonder if we have the courage to pray the same?