Life on the Chrism Trail

Homily for the Memorial and Promotional Mass for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem

October 16, 2021
Vietnamese Martyrs Catholic Church
Arlington, Texas

Sirach 2:1-11
Psalm 23
1 John 3:1-2
John 14:1-6

Today the Lord has gathered and summoned us as His People to offer and to celebrate this Mass for the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher of Jesus. We pray for the repose of the souls of those Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulcher who have died during the past two years. We also pray for those members who are to be promoted within the ranks of our order for the sake of the mission entrusted to us.

The Church offers us readings from Sacred Scripture for our reflection and nourishment for both these intentions of our prayers. In so doing we worship God as He desires to be worshipped and we thank God as He desires to be thanked for His nurturing us in our belonging as members of His People, the Church.

In the Gospel reading that we have just proclaimed, Jesus speaks to His disciples as He speaks to us — with words of peace and words of belonging to Him. “Do not let your hearts be troubled;” “Have faith in me;” “I will go and prepare a place for you;” “I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be.” These are words of belonging.

Belonging is rooted in a kind of homecoming. The place and the people who know you and whom you know are at the heart of belonging. The place and the people that you know and who know you, and the place and the people from where you are, and what “you are for” are at the heart of belonging. Belonging speaks of family and it speaks of community. It does not speak of a mob or an aggregate of anonymous individuals. “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called children of God. Yet so we are.”

Jesus assures the disciples as He assures us in His words of belonging, “where I am going, you know the way.” Yet, Thomas is unsure and doubtful, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Thomas misunderstands the way as a technique, a program, an idea, or a process. Thomas is thinking about another purpose than discipleship of Jesus that will not cost him the risk of trust and the risk of belonging. He desires what Jesus offers but He is not certain, nor is he willing to commit to Jesus Himself. Thomas is not ready to belong to Jesus. He is not thinking of belonging. Thomas is thinking only in terms of “fitting in.” 

“Fitting in” involves compromising enough so as not to be kicked out or ostracized from a group. Fitting in is a way of showing that you are useful for purposes of a group of individuals — purposes that are not your own but require your passive and external compliance. When you are fitting in you are settling for merely being useful; when you belong you are cooperating towards a higher goal that you and those to whom you belong both know and love. Belonging requires the sharing of time, “fitting in” demands that I jealously measure time and ration it sparingly with inconvenience. Belonging involves my being received in love and receiving others in love. Belonging involves offering and receiving, not simply being absorbed. The scandal at our border is that thousands of persons have been trafficked like a commodity and considered by the powerful of many nations and corporations only as to how they fit into the economic question of our global society, not as persons with belonging but trafficked as cogs and widgets fitting into a large machine. But make no mistake, they belong to Christ and are God’s children. We who belong to Christ also belong to them and we cannot be indifferent to this fact.

Jesus speaks to Thomas — and to us — in no uncertain terms that “fitting in” does not suffice, “I am the way and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” We must accept the belonging that He offers us. Our role as baptized members of the Church is not simply to imitate Jesus or even to walk with Him side by side or to espouse, through our conjecture, what we imagine to be His abstract values. Our responsibility as members of His Church, the People of God, is to be in union with Him in an intimate bond of love and active charity that requires the laying down of one’s life, the taking up of one’s cross, and the confident expectation of having a share in His victory and His joy. This is truly what it means to belong to the People of God by belonging first to Christ and not to this world as one who seeks only to fit in. “The reason that the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.”

As the People of God, the Church, we do not fit in.  We belong, first to Christ and then to each other. As the People of God, we are not simply an aggregate of individuals with competitive and special interests marked off by what makes us different from each other. Yet, our sameness does not absorb our uniqueness in belonging to God and with each other. We belong as members of the People of God sacramentally, body and soul, integral and dynamic. As Pope Francis has said, “Our Christian identity is belonging to a people. Without the Church, we are not Christians.”

In God’s creation, we are designed in body and soul to belong and not simply to fit in in accord with the order of nature and of grace. This can be seen in our consideration of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Matrimony is a depiction of the consummation of belonging between Christ and His Bride, the Church. Husbands and wives belong to each other through the lived consent they offer each other, body and soul, first offered in the vows they exchange in permanence, fidelity, and openness to God’s gift of children. Husbands and wives offer and receive in their full personhood that is lived reciprocally as man and woman. Belonging is not simply cohabitation between two or more individuals denuded capriciously of gender but afforded the convention of shared property rights; nor is belonging an abstraction or an idea divorced from nature and reality for the sake of fitting in with the elite and ideological whims of contemporary society and popular culture. “Belonging” can only be the effect of authentic and sacrificial love as initiated selflessly by God. This is expressed sacramentally through authentic marriage between man and woman and as the foundation of the family for the firm grounding of an integral society requiring generous cooperation for the common good and not simply “fitting in” for competitive purposes towards the consumption of limited resources. Children, born and unborn, belong to their mothers and fathers, even if they do not fit into their plans.

The good news is that God has designed us for belonging and through Christ has called us to that mission and in the Spirit has enabled us to fulfill it through service. Yet, this is not the easy path of simply fitting in with the crowd. As we read today in the Book of Sirach, “When you come to serve the Lord, stand in justice and fear, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, incline your ear and receive the word of understanding, undisturbed in time of adversity. Wait on God with patience, cling to Him, forsake Him not; thus, will you be wise in all your ways. Accept whatever befalls you, when sorrowful, be steadfast, and in crushing misfortune be patient.”

The promotion today of our members within the ranks of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulcher and the admission tomorrow of new members can never be simply a matter of joining a club in which we try to fit in. Our membership requires the belonging afforded us by Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Son of God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried, and who is risen from the dead, leaving the tomb empty, to complete belonging in the mansion that He has prepared for us. We pray today with the confident hope of the empty and Holy Sepulcher of Christ for our members who have died and to whom we still belong in Christ because in the love the Father has bestowed on us, we are not orphans but belong together as children of God as we truly are.

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