Holy Sepulchre Investiture Homily
Votive Mass, Our Lady of Palestine
Cathedral of St. Matthew Apostle, Washington, D.C.
October 29, 2022
Drawn in the Paschal Mystery
Anticipating “investiture weekend”, you were, no doubt, looking forward to the presence of the Grand Master, His Eminence, Cardinal Fernando Filoni. As you know, due to illness the Cardinal is unable to be with us, and so, it fell to me to be the celebrant and homilist of this Mass of Investiture. It’s a little like one’s going to a Broadway play, expecting to see a star performer, only to find that the understudy is playing the part that night. Following the policy of most Broadway theatres, we will give no refunds! That said, we pray that the Grand Master’s recovery will be swift and complete.
Last Thursday, we gathered to pray for the members of our Lieutenancy whom God called home during these past few years. Yesterday evening, we celebrated the promotion of current members of the Order, and this morning, we are about to invest new members of the Order, as a sign of the growth and vitality of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. As we take part in this cycle of death and resurrection within our own ranks, we are drawn, inexorably, into the Death and Resurrection of the Savior. And we are drawn into the central mysteries of our salvation by none other than Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, whom we invoke as Our Lady of Palestine.
Let us ask Mary, who carried the Word made flesh in her womb to open the Scriptures for us this morning, so that we may bask in the great events of our salvation, events that unfolded in the land made holy by the footsteps of the Redeemer. In the light of those saving events, may we understand more profoundly the spirit of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre and our role in its mission … its mission to support the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem in works of charity and education, and to sustain the churches and shrines that mark those places consecrated for all time by the Lord’s earthly presence.
Divine Wisdom Embodied
Today’s first reading from the Book of Proverbs opens the door of our hearts to the wisdom and love manifested in God’s plan of creation and redemption. God’s Word, eternally begotten by the Father, is himself the divine Artisan who created the world in all its beauty, goodness, and wonder. He made it to be the arena where God would encounter us in love, and where we would receive, reflect, and return God’s love – to his glory and to our happiness. As we know, sin intervened and marred the beauty of creation while alienating us from God and from one another, thus making his beautiful work of creation a “vale of tears”.
In his love for humanity, God chose to intervene, not from afar, but by entering human history. He did so, first by accompanying the Chosen People and filling them with hope, and then by sending his Son, the Eternal Word, to become incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Mary, who first conceived the Word of God in her heart conceived the Word in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. Mary thus embodied God’s wisdom. In her, the Word became flesh: the Word through whom the world was created and by whom the world would be redeemed.
And so, we might say that, through Mary, Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our Redeemer, walked through the door of history so that you and I might walk through the door of faith. Christ walked through the door of time and history and culture so that we might walk through the gates of heaven which he opened for us by his Life, Death, and Resurrection … all of which came to pass in the land we call holy. Jesus Christ is thus, neither a myth nor a mirage, nor the creation of fiction-writers. The Jesus who walked the earth, who dwelt in Palestine some 2,000 years ago – this is the Christ who died on the Cross, was buried in a tomb, rose from the dead, and now is exalted at the right hand of the Father. To use well-worn theological shorthand, the Jesus of History is the Christ of Faith.
From Adam to Christ
We see this in today’s Gospel where we find Mary, the Mother of Jesus, standing at the foot of the Cross. She is standing at that place and in that moment of history where and when her divine Son laid down his life for the salvation of the world. There and then, the Cross became the door to the Resurrection and the Resurrection the door to that new and eternal life on which we pinned our hopes.
What St. Paul describes today in his letter to the Romans is indeed what unfolded as Jesus poured out his life on the Cross. In that one righteous act, Jesus took upon himself our sins so that they could be overcome by the abundance of his grace. Mary, whom he gave to us as our spiritual mother shared in his Sacrifice, more fully than any other human being, and in this Eucharist, she beckons us to share in it ever-more deeply, so that God’s Eternal Wisdom might be vindicated in us.
The Mission of the Order
In the closing years of the 13th Century, at the conclusion of the First Crusade, Godfrey de Bouillon founded the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. He founded it amid the complex and strife-ridden history of the Holy Land, to defend the Holy Sepulchre and to support the Christian presence in the Holy Land. Godfrey’s purpose was not so much to achieve military or political victories as it was to protect the homeland of Jesus and Mary. From the start, he entrusted this project to the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Palestine. On this day of investiture, we turn to her with loving devotion, asking her to pray with us and for us as we take up Godfrey’s project anew.
How, then, are we to understand the mission of the Order, so that we may advance it? Like Godfrey de Bouillon and his successors, we seek to protect and support the basilicas, churches, and other sites that mark the places where Jesus’ earthly life unfolded. Yet, we do not preserve them merely as one might conserve historic artifacts in a museum or precious documents in an archive. Rather, we endeavor to preserve those sacred places where the Son of God entered the doors of human history so that we and all the world might walk more securely through the doors of faith. As an Order we bear united witness that our salvation was won not by putting forth lofty ideas or by setting down new moral teachings, but by Jesus’ salvific immersion into the depths of our human condition. As we continue along our pilgrim way, Jesus Christ is both Lord and Brother.
What’s more, the Order offers tangible support to the living presence of Christ in his Church in the Holy Land. Despite the many challenges it faces, the Church there is not a mere collection of monuments, however venerable – but a living, breathing Church that proclaims the Gospel, celebrates the Faith, educates the young, and serves the poor, the needy, and vulnerable. This is the noble calling which we embrace as Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulchre: to support that Church upon which the Church everywhere was built. Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary may we honor our commitments by our prayer, involvement, and generosity as we strive to walk through the doors of history into the realms of divine glory. Our Lady of Palestine, pray for us!