Homily of His Beatitude Fouad Twal
Openning Liturgy 6th October 2010
World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations
Dear Sisters in Christ of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organization, it is with great pleasure that I welcome you to the Holy City of Jerusalem, and even to the Co-Cathedral of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem. Ever since meeting your President, Karen Hurley in Rome last year, I have very much desired to know you and your organization better. But even more than that, I have desired that the women of this diocese, the Patriarchate of Jerusalem, might know you better, and that your sisterhood in Christ might help sustain the faith and mission of our women and families here. So, whereas it is always a great pleasure for me to welcome pilgrims here to the Holy Land, and indeed a sacred duty, there is a special joy that I have in welcoming you. Welcome!
The readings that the Church proposes to us for meditation during the mass today are very apt for this occasion. In the first reading we hear the words of St. Paul as he describes his trip to Jerusalem to insure, as he puts it, “that I might not be running, or have run, in vain.” Jerusalem, the city of the Lord’s victory over sin and death, and the starting point of Christian apostolic witness to Christ, was the center of the universal Church; and it is here that Paul, the apostle to the gentiles, had to come in order to verify his communion of faith, to make sure that he was not wasting his time and energy. Is that not also the reason why you all have come from all around the world to be together, to verify your witness to Christ?
The great apostle, then, in order to be a witness to Christ to all the peoples, could not do so without a total dependence upon the unity of believers. He had to have his ministry judged by the authority of the Church, the first Pope, St. Peter. That dependence did not make him a slave to ecclesiastical power. We see that he was ready to correct Cephas “to his face!” Rather, this dependence upon the living communion of the Church was the source of his freedom; it was the guarantee that he was listening and following and proclaiming the voice of the Lord Jesus, and not just his own imagination. It meant that his mission as a witness was not in vain.
These two apostles, Peter and Paul would later die in as martyrs, (which is the Greek and Arabic word for witness), in Rome, making it the center of the Roman Catholic Church. Yet their first meeting, and the first Church council, was here, where St. James, my predecessor, was the first bishop. From the beginning, then, we see that those who are called to be witnesses to Jesus Christ throughout the world, to do so profitably, for the life of the whole church, must do so with a living obedience to the center of the Church. Our fiery apostle is a wonderful example of this.
Dear Ladies, You have come here to reflect on the theme: “You will be My Witnesses,” words spoken by the Risen Lord to his followers after warning them to not depart from Jerusalem and before conferring upon them the Holy Spirit, who would make them one body, one heart and one mind in Christ. We must ask that the same Jesus who has invited you to Jerusalem, not let you leave without conferring upon you a new reception of the Holy Spirit before sending you out to be witnesses.
To be witnesses of Christ, my dear sisters, means not only to have seen him and recognized him as Lord, but also means that we have to keep our eyes upon him always, first of all in the living fact of the visible unity of believers, the Church. To be a Christian, in other words, means, even as we see in St. Paul, an ever-deepening dependence upon our communion created by the Spirit, that communion makes us one with Christ as sons and daughters of His Father.
People come to the Holy Land, to Jerusalem because faith in Jesus Christ, being witnesses to his salvation, is not first of all a matter of imagination and interpretation, but is in the first place a question of discovery of a fact and our obedience to this fact; faith is the discovery and recognition of the presence of the man who was crucified and then rose from the dead, just a few hundred meters from where we are right now, and it is the dependent following of his living presence among us in our communion. Your pilgrimage to the Holy Land, the land of his earthly ministry, can be a wonderful aid to recognizing and following Christ. The facts on the ground here can have a jolting effect on us, re-igniting our discovery and our desire to follow this new and live-giving fact. It can make our faith much more concrete. Our imagination is enflamed as it is rooted in something solid and tangible, and our full obedience becomes an interpretation for the others in our homelands of who Christ is.
We have seen, then, that to be a witness means to live a dependence upon our communion. But of course, this dependence does not mean only coming to these wonderful occasions, such as these meetings and pilgrimages. It also means, always and everywhere, prayer. Prayer is the means by which we deepen our active awareness and memory of Christ among us and are trained to be ever more dependent upon our communion with the Father through His Son, alive in the Church. Prayer is the means by which the discovery of this fact, this man Jesus among us today, changes our hearts, our minds and our lives. It is how we are turned into living witnesses. And it is prayer that the Gospel speaks to us about this morning.
The Lord’s prayer that we receive from the pen of St. Luke is very short. The first word is “Father.” We begin the prayer then with a recognition of the One from who we receive existence, upon whom everything depends in every moment, and who lovingly invites us to return to Him through His son Jesus, who himself is the Kingdom. We then ask for what we need day by day, no more than that, thus remaining in dependence always upon His grace. Next we acknowledge our need for forgiveness, and the need to share this gift of God with others. And finally, we confess our weakness and ask for our Father’s clemency saying, like trusting, frail children: “Do not subject us to the final test.” This prayer, given us by the Lord, helps us express our dependence and open up to the Father of our Lord Jesus as our own Father. As a Father he receives and strengthens His weak children and confers upon them their mission – to live out our dependence upon His grace always, witnessing to the victory of Jesus over sin and death and inviting all mankind into the communion of the Church.
My dear sisters in Christ, you have come here from over sixty nations. You are a powerful sign of the universality of the Church. As such, I ask you to take to heart the mission of the Church here in the Holy Land. Our mission, like yours, is first of all to be witnesses to Jesus Christ, and to do that in the very land that he himself called home. This is the only place in the world that gathers all the believers in Jesus Christ. The great unity of the universal Church is the particular mission of our Church here. If all the believers are to be in the one body, the Church, then the Church of Jerusalem will have a central role to play. Pray for this universal mission of the Church of Jerusalem, that all may be one, as our Lord desires.
With this in mind, I especially desire that you offer your prayers for an extremely important event that will be taking place in just a few days in Rome: The Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops. The leaders of all the Catholic Churches of the Middle East will gather next week asking the Holy Spirit for renewal in our unity of faith and witness, so that like St. Paul we may not work in vain. We desire and hope for much fruit, a revitalization of the Church in this crucial part of the world. We pray that the churches may rediscover the fact that we are one in Christ, who prayed to the Father, “that they may all be one… so that the world may believe.” (Jn 17:21) From my heart I ask for you prayers for this intention.
Let me finally say, then, once again, “welcome to the Mother Church,” welcome to the land where the very stones verify our faith, the stones of the Holy Sites and the Holy Monuments, as well as the living stones, the Christian faithful who are native to the very land that gave birth to our Lord. May what you meet here strengthen you in faith, deepen your dependence of your communion in the Lord, renew you in prayer and make you truly, as is your desire and his desire, his witnesses to the ends of the earth.