The Prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, was in Jordan over the weekend, where he presided over a liturgy celebrating the official re-opening of the shrine atop Mt. Nebo.
The summit of Mt. Nebo is the place from which, according to ancient tradition, Moses saw the Promised Land before he died.
Here is the full text of Cardinal Sandri’s homily, in its official English translation
Your Excellency, S.E. Msgr. Alberto Ortega, Apostolic Nuncio in Jordan,
Reverend Father Custos, Fr. Francesco Patton, Your Excellency, Mr. Ambassador of Italy to the Kingdom of Jordan,
Reverend Friars of the Custody of the Holy Land, Distinguished Authorities,
Brothers and sisters in the Lord!
Yesterday [Saturday] evening, in the twilight of the day, the doors of this Sanctuary were reopened, and so many of us were able to contemplate the fruits of the labors of these years. Today we celebrate the Eucharist and bless the new altar of this sanctuary. Our thanksgiving rises to the Father of all mercies, and in the Holy Spirit we can feel the embrace of the communion of saints: those who heard the voice of God, believed his promise and set out along the Way. These are the descendants of Abraham, our father in faith, through Moses and the prophets, until the fullness of time, when God sent us his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. It is He, Whom our brothers of the early centuries followed and announced. This early church knew how to shine with a diversity of gifts and traditions, without ever tearing the tunic of Christ through schisms and scandalous divisions. Each tile of the beautiful mosaics seems to echo the song of praise to the Lord of our brothers and sisters: over the centuries, the light and the splendor of their faith has been preserved, and nothing has been able to erase it, neither the dust of centuries, nor the destruction of war. It was given back to us through the skillful work of those who sought out and were capable of hearing the song of this land and of these stones. We give thanks for the faith of all of these people: men and women of the First and the New Covenant, workers and pilgrims, such as Egeria and Peter the Iberian, the friar archaeologists, especially Michele Piccirillo, and also all the friars who have been praying here and continue to pray, welcoming also, with a sincere look and a kindly word, all those who climb this mountain in search of the meaning of history.
Pope Francis, in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium defines the believer, as essentially “one who remembers” (13). Suggestively the Sanctuary bears the name: the “Memorial of Moses”. The biblical tradition, of which Jesus himself was well aware when he celebrated the Passover, teaches us that a memorial – ziqqaron – is very different from a simple memory of a distant time that is no more. As a witness of our day, Thomas Merton, has described it, a memorial can be defined as “the ‘then’ that becomes ‘now’.” Caring for this shrine means desiring to remain now, today, in that singular experience that God granted to his servant Moses. Here it was that Moses closed his eyes to the life of this world, but not before having contemplated the fulfillment of the promise: the people would enter into the land “flowing with milk and honey.” What are the characteristics of the experience lived by Moses? Let the Word of God indicate them to us.
The passage of Deuteronomy just proclaimed described Moses as a great prophet, greater than all the others, because “the Lord knew him face to face”, even before the great wonders accomplished in the presence of Pharaoh. Seeing God face-to-face means being the recipient of a singular divine grace: it was not Moses who sought out the Lord, but rather it was God, Who found His servant and made him hear His voice. Thus, Moses entered into the mystery of the burning bush and became the guardian of the revelation of the living God. Only this profound intimacy with the Lord enables Moses to be the leader and guide of the people, and their powerful intercessor for achieving salvation and victory. From these traits of Moses arises a question for all of us who are consecrated ─ bishops, priests, and friars of the Custody of the Holy Land: how mindful are we of the gaze of God which has settled upon our lives? We pray today trough the intercession of Saint Francis of Assisi: he was also able to change his life’s course by heeding the voice of God, in a kind of experience of the burning bush that we can recognize in the dialogue with the Crucifix in San Damiano. Francis, too, like Moses, was an intercessor for the renewal of the Church and for peace between peoples. We must remain, and especially you, the “Friars of the Rope”, pilgrims ourselves, journeying towards the Absolute, free of any desire for personal achievement. Then, we will be able to accompany those who come here and everywhere in the world, and be authoritative guides and generous companions to mankind on the way. We could consider this trait of Moses as the brightness of his calling and of his confidence in God.
Moses dies here, outside the land into which the people enters. This is because he himself partook of their sin, protesting against God on account of the unbelief, the complaints and the distrust of those whom he had guided out of slavery to Pharaoh. Even the guide, the Lord’s anointed, is wounded by the experience of frailty and sin. We must have the courage to admit it and to call by name the evil we find in our own heart and in the world. If, like Moses, we stretch our gaze across the surrounding lands, we are reminded of many divisions and counter-witnesses; of the conflicts that for decades have set one people against another; of the cry of those fleeing war and persecution in Syria and Iraq to find refuge in the country of Jordan. Likewise, we recall the deafness of some those who hold the destiny of peoples and nations in their hands, but prefer to preserve markets and profits, instead of saving the innocent lives of women and children. We cannot ignore the sin of those who blaspheme the name of God by using violence against their fellow human beings. How deep is the mystery of evil! The first step to defeating it is to let God conquer it in us and for us! May this Shrine, which is being re-opened in the Holy Year of Mercy, remain a place where pilgrims learn to be merciful through having a concrete experience of it.
The foundation of hope and of the victory of grace is given to us in Christ, who came “not to condemn the world; but that the world might be saved through him.” We must raise our eyes and fix them on the Crucified One, who has been lifted up from the earth like the serpent of Moses, so that anyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. In the light of the Risen One, by which all Scripture should be read, the death of Moses is not a punishment and a defeat, but as the attainment of fulfillment. We, with, Moses really know that God is the God of life and of history, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. One can be great without a sense of accomplishment, but simply by reaching the threshold, like Moses on this mountain, and remaining there in peace.
In the communion of the saints of yesterday and today, may this sanctuary, O Lord, be a place to have a living experience of You. You continue to call us to follow you, as disciples and friends; you offer us the opportunity to witness to your love and to your mercy, which overcomes sin and death, foreshadowing the splendid fulfillment of your promise. We ask for this gift especially for the younger generation of this beloved Middle East, that they might be accompanied to the threshold of a life of peace in their countries. May they know the peaceful coexistence of religions and cultures in a reciprocal competition of charity, seeking to construct the common good. May there be no more violence, oppression and denial of the basic freedom to profess one’s faith. We ask these things with the trust and docility of Mary’s heart, especially for the ecumenical journey among the Churches. It was in the East that the major schisms took place; now, in the same East the blood of Christians of all denominations is being mixed. Along with Cardinal Martini, we ask ourselves: “What does it mean today to be on Mount Nebo? We felt somewhat like Moses, who arrived on the mountain after a long journey, but felt that the real journey remained ahead; he did not travel it, and yet he rejoiced to think that others would. Perhaps we will not see the hoped-for conclusion of the ecumenical journey, the perfect attainment of unity. Still, someone else will see it and this is our certainty, the certainty of Moses!” Amen