EDWIN CARDINAL O’BRIEN
GRAND MASTER OF THE OESSH
MERCY SUNDAY 2015
Dear Knights and Ladies,
Now that we are into the Easter Season, may I wish you all a Buona Pasqua and offer a personal reflection on what this Season means for us especially in light of the crisis in the Holy Land and the Middle East.
The change of spiritual mood could not be more stark. Overnight, in fact! Easter Eve, to be specific. The various liturgical texts during the Easter Triduum tell it all:
From Good Friday’s failure and near hopelessness: "He was harshly treated… Like a lamb led to the slaughter … he was silent … Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away, … cut off from the land … A grave was assigned him among the wicked."
Through Holy Saturday’s sterile emptiness: "Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness."
And finally, the Easter Good News: "He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him." Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Has the monumental Paschal Event brought about a similar shift in spiritual mood among believing Catholics? More specifically, among us – the 30,000 women and men who make up the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem? If some sort of spiritual re-awakening is not taking place among us – from Lent to Easter, Good Friday to the dramatic Easter Vigil and in all the days of Eastertide – I’d suggest we are failing, in one way or another, in our professed priority as Knights and Ladies in responding to our Order’s principal purpose: "To strengthen in its members the practice of the Christian life…"
As members of the Order, might not our practice of the Christian life suggest we focus on the tragic events daily taking place in the Holy Land and our suffering brothers and sisters who are there? Indeed both our identity as Knights and Ladies as well as our baptismal solidarity with them, would require such a focus.
Since becoming our Holy Father, Pope Francis has spoken often of the desperate plight of fellow Christians in the Holy Land and the need of all the world’s Christians to identify with them.
Visiting the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre during his Holy Land Pilgrimage last May he reminded all Christians: "Each of us, everyone baptized in Christ, has spiritually risen from this tomb… we were buried together with him, so as to be raised up with him and to walk in newness of life."
On that occasion, side by side with His Holiness Bartholomew, Patriarch of Constantinople, Pope Francis spoke of a unique ecumenism to which our baptism binds us with all Christians, especially those suffering for their faith in the Christ: "When Christians of different confessions suffer together, side by side… there is born an ecumenism of suffering, an ecumenism of blood, which proves particularly powerful … by virtue of the communion of the saints."
In particular, does not the beheading of 21 Orthodox Coptic brothers tell us something about an ecumenism of suffering and blood?
From the empty Sepulchre, the Pope seems to suggest, flow the baptismal graces that join all Christians on to another, and requiring and enabling us to participate in the suffering and death of Jesus which is being continued these very days in the genocide of Christians of every denomination at the hands of extremists. How acutely do we who truly belong to that land feel the pain of those modern day saints? Do we share a real sense of baptismal solidarity with them and how do we express that?
And what of the millions of refugees made homeless who wait – too often in vain – for a sign of Christian solidarity with them. The Jesus of the Gospels is never indifferent to the sufferings of others. He is disturbed and even moved to the point of tears: a lesson for us?
Surely, how relevant St. Paul’s reminder is to the suffering Colossians of his day: "…in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings for the sake of his body, that is, the Church"! A modern writer echoes the thought: "Christ will be in his death throes until the end of the world."
This emphasis on the intimate bond which baptism brings about both with the Tomb of the Resurrection as well as with our fellow Christians enduring homelessness, persecution and martyrdom in the Middle East must have special claim on members of our Order.
During our Order’s Audience in Rome 18 months ago, our Holy Father reminded us all: "An ancient bond ties you to the Holy Sepulchre, the perennial memorial of Christ Crucified who was laid there and of the Risen Christ who conquered death." How might we express and build upon those bonds during the Easter Season?
First, spiritually: Our daily Eucharistic liturgies, so rich in scriptural readings during this Easter Season, offer our members a valuable opportunity to deepen our baptismal solidarity with fellow Christians who share with us our devotion to the Holy Sepulchre. Meditating on the readings of each day – with the help of the Holy Spirit – will surely deepen our appreciation of the Easter Sacrament and its meaning for each of us. Regular weekly Mass should be a hallmark of every Knight and Lady of the Sepulchre.
More concretely, while it is not the role of our respective Lieutenancies to recommend policy actions to their governments, should not we encourage individual members to urge much needed development assistance to host countries burdened in meeting the needs of displaced persons within their regions?
Members should be aware of Pope Francis’ appeal to the international community for the use proportionate and discriminate military force to protect religious minorities and civilians. In this ongoing mega-crisis, communities should also consider offering resettlement opportunities to the tens of thousands of refugees unable to return to their homes.
In light of all this we might ask a double question:
- How have our goals and programs been adjusted in light of the continuing persecution of the Middle East?
- Are we doing enough to raise awareness of our members of this swelling catastrophe?
This is not to question the enormous contributions of our lieutenancies and individual members for stability in the Holy Land and for spiritual and material relief of Christians within the Latin Patriarchate and beyond. More than ever, more is ever needed, and is always received with deep gratitude.
How often when I consider the extremists’ wanton destruction throughout the Middle East, my mind turns to Psalm 74 which we pray regularly in the Divine Office. The psalm voices the desperate cries of the faithful in Jerusalem as they witness the enemy’s unrestrained destruction of the Temple and the Holy City itself. In part:
"The enemy has laid waste the whole of the sanctuary… their axes have battered the wood of its doors… O God, they have set your sanctuary on fire… they said in their hearts, "Let us burn every shrine of God in their land."
Then a plea:
"Why, O Lord, do you hold back your hand?... Do not give Israel, your love, to the hawk."
And a glimmer of hope:
"Yet God is our king from time past, the giver of help throughout all the land."
My brothers and sisters, it is Easter. We have passed through the near hopelessness of Good Friday and with the Resurrection and Empty Tomb we too have reason to hope. St. Paul assured the struggling Church of the Ephesians, so today he assures us:
With the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know… what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe… God has put this power to work in Christ… and has made him head of all things for the church, which is his body.
It is to this Christ we must constantly turn – the Christ who promises us: In the world you will have troubles. But do not fear, for I have overcome the world.
Thank you, God bless all of you especially during these rich days of Eastertide.
Rome, April 12, 2015