Homily 1st Mass Holy Sepulchre
Jerusalem December 5, 2020
Acts 10:34-43, Ps 118, Col 3:1-4, Jn 20:1-9
Most Reverend Excellencies
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
May the Lord give you peace!
At the official beginning of my new service, I come to this Place, to ask for the gift of the Holy Spirit who sustains the Church, that you and I may likewise be sustained at the start of this new ministry.
Forma gregis pastor. But what kind of model? What kind of form?
It is no coincidence that this new ministry begins right here at the Basilica of the Resurrection and that the Gospel of the Resurrection is read. And precisely in the light of this Gospel, I would like us to see this new ministry and our Church.
What does it mean for the Church in Jerusalem today to encounter and witness to the Risen Lord? What does it mean to be “church” in Jerusalem? And what interpretation can I give, I … called to be its shepherd?
The Gospel speaks of night and darkness, but it no longer frightens, because it is fading into the looming morning light. It speaks of a heavy stone, but it is rolled back and blocks nothing. It speaks of disciples who are running. It speaks of shrouds – a symbol of death – shrouds that bind no one. It speaks of eyes that see. It speaks of hearts that believe … and it speaks of the Scriptures that is revealed to full understanding. It is a Gospel full of life and enthusiasm … and it speaks of us!
The Gospel asks us not to close ourselves in our Upper Rooms; not to measure our ecclesial vocation by our personal or collective fears. But it invites us to see the ecclesial reality of Jerusalem, of our Church, in the light of the encounter with the Risen Lord.
It is true ... we are the Church of Calvary. But it is precisely on Calvary that the Church was born from the pierced side of Christ. Christ on the Cross is not only a suffering redeemer, but also a loving and forgiving redeemer. We are also therefore a Church of love, a love that never rests, a love that is always awake. We are a Church that knows how to forgive, and is always life-giving without conditions.
We are the Church of the Upper Room, not the Upper Room with doors barred and people paralyzed with fear. The Gospel speaks of disciples who rushed outside the Upper Room to encounter the Risen Lord. The Upper Room is the place of the Risen Christ that transcends closed doors. It gives the Holy Spirit and Peace. Therefore, we are asked to be a Church that transcends walls and closed doors. We are called to be a Church that believes, announces, builds peace … but “not as the world gives” (Jn. 14:27). Unfortunately, we have seen too many times, announcements of peace that have been betrayed. The Church will have to build peace that is the fruit of the Holy Spirit; a fruit that gives life and confidence, always renewing and never tiring.
The Spirit of Pentecost bore a Church that is diverse, interwoven with various cultures and languages but always one, with “one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32). Today we too are a Church spread throughout an enormous territory, in which various cultures and languages, at times, are tempted to focus on itself. We are called to unity, which is different from uniformity. We want to be a united Church without borders, always welcoming, able to grow and love in diversity: local Christians from our diverse territories, pilgrims, migrants, workers … all are an integral part of our Church.
The continuous encounter with others, different from ourselves within our home – the Church, should render us more capable of listening to others outside our home. The diverse character of the Church in Jerusalem, in few words, calls us to be a “church” that is increasingly “extrovert”, welcoming, open to others.
We are a numerically small Church. That is a part of our identity and there is no need for drama. Such a condition reminds us that we do not exist for ourselves but must enter into relationships with all whom we meet, and it encourages us to be proactive especially with the people and faiths which are found in our land: Christians, Muslims, Jews and Druze.
We are the Mother Church. Is a mother she who generates. To paraphrase a famous saying, “semel mater, semper mater” (“once a mother, always a mother). A mother continuously generates life in every act and gesture of giving, of oblation and of intercession. A mother does not hold anything back for herself, but lives for those whom she bore. May our Church be like this; not turned inwards on herself, her wounds and may she always remember that we are created for eternal life. Only then can we be fruitfully a Church that is able to intercede, to place others at the center of her attention, desiring always to say words of hope and consolation even at the most difficult of times, deciding to defend the rights of God and man, attentive to the neediest, committed to building a community of solidarity. We realize then that by gazing towards heaven and beyond ourselves, we will also more easily find meaning, enthusiasm, passion and energy for our own home.
“They did not yet understand the Scriptures” (Jn. 20:9). Our Church is called first of all to live in the light of the Word of God, which together with the sacraments, feed not only our faith but our entire lives. The understanding of Scripture changes lives and orientations; it opens the heart. In the Word of God we find nourishment, meaning and motivation in our ecclesial service. It is the Word of God that directs our pastoral service, and not the other way around.
The Gospel speaks of a rolled away stone. Even if there are many problems and difficulties that afflict us, we want to declare that nothing can enclose us in our tombs; that we are a living Church that no stone can stop or hinder us. The Gospel invites us to be open, to broaden and look beyond, to run, like the women and the disciples, to announce that there is nothing more beautiful than to live the Gospel of Christ.
We want to be continuously moving towards Jesus, without stopping, without enclosing ourselves in our own comforts. The Church does not live in regrets for the things that were yesterday, and she is not involved in continuous analysis of what she must be today. But she lives in the present in serenity and without fear. If we want to follow Christ, we must be in motion with him. Our constant laments of certain situations, of problems that confront us, our weariness, all these are perhaps understandable at this juncture, but they still are an obstacle to our journey following the Risen Lord.
Finally, we want to journey together. No one, no group, no institution has all that it takes to serve the Church. But at the same time, each one is necessary. Only together can we sustain each other. Each one has its own work, its own function, its own service, its own identity … but all work together for the service of the Kingdom.
Let us entrust this new ministry to the Most Holy Virgin, a strong and unwavering woman who stood at the foot of the Cross. It is this same Virgin who encounters the Risen Christ with joy. By her example, we can overcome trials and, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit, can live up to the end, the joy of knowing that we are loved by God.