Solemnity of the Nativity of St John the Baptist
MASS FOR THE SOVEREIGN MILITARY HOSPITALLER ORDER OF SAINT JOHN OF JERUSALEM OF RHODES AND MALTA
Homily notes of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Saint Mary’s Haddington Road, 24th June 2017
“I was impressed by the Message of the Lieutenant of the Grand Master of the Order of Malta – Fra’ Giacomo dalla Torre – as he undertook his new responsibilities. His message was to all the Members of the Order and the various works that the Order is involved in in so many parts of the world. The message was a strong affirmation of the traditions of the Order and of its loyalty to the Holy Father. What emerged indeed was a sense of harmony and even synergy between the spirit of the Order and the thrust of renewal that Pope Francis wishes to bring to the life of the Church. That same sense of harmony was reflected in the meeting yesterday between the Lieutenant of the Grand Master and his Council with Pope Francis.
This moment in time calls for renewal within the Church and renewal within the Order of Malta. In his address to the Order, the acting Grand Master stressed that he felt “honoured, privileged, and blessed” to have been elected as the sovereign head and religious superior of the Order of Malta. He described the Order as “an institution that – even during the most challenging times in its long history – has never failed to honour its Catholic faith and its core mission to help the sick and those in need”. Faith, the sick and those in need! These three words belong to the DNA of the Order of Malta.
This moment calls for renewed commitment to advancing and developing the important actions that the Order of Malta carries out – through our many associations, relief and volunteer corps and embassies – in 120 countries. If anything, the mission of the Order is more vital than ever in an era of unrest and uncertainty. Humanitarian emergencies are increasing. The demands of those in dire need of food and medical assistance, and social and spiritual support, are increasing and it is the calling and indeed the duty of the Order to help them.
The reflections of Fra’ Giacomo mirror the constant call of Pope Francis who speaks of a Church called to reach out to “the periphery”. What does the Pope mean by “reaching out to the periphery”? It is not just that he asks us to go out directly with concrete help to those who are sick or poor or marginalised. Pope Francis is saying something more, something deeper and something more challenging for us to understand.
He is telling us that it is in the periphery that we encounter Jesus. We will never encounter Jesus if we live isolated in our own comfort and security. The more we reach out to the periphery, the more we will realise that Jesus is there. Jesus is there in those who suffer, in those who are ostracised, in those who fail and fall into sin, in those who seek the meaning of life. It is in the periphery that we learn the weakness and the false certainties of many of our own ideas of faith. It might seem a strange paradox, but there is a sense when we can say that it is when we are at home with sinners and with the weak that we find Christ and can then bring Christ to others.
The care of the sick and the troubled and the marginalised is an essential dimension of the Christian life and of the life of the Church. The Order of Malta and its members are called to be special witnesses to that care.
The technical progress of our times calls even more urgently to be accompanied always by sense of the dignity of the sick person and of the gratuitous care and companionship that they deserve. You faith must bring an added sense of true humanity to all your work for the sick and the needy. I have already said that the three words faith, the sick and the needy belong to the DNA of the Order of Malta. These three words belong together in an integrated way able to impact on the formation of a truly caring society.
Those who today will be invested into the Order are being called to renew their Christian life and commitment and through their lives make a real impact on the direction that must guide the values of our society.
Your Patron, Saint John the Baptist, made a real impact on the society of his time. John the Baptist was the first prophet in the Old Testament tradition for centuries. He brought rebirth to the tradition of witness and prophecy. The numbers who flocked to him were enormous. He re-awakened expectation. He was one who did not just prophecy in general terms. John addressed the concrete questions of those who were searching for meaning for their lives. Those who came to him asked: “what are we to do?” Those who encountered him knew that they must change their lives.
John signalled a new future in Jesus Christ. Like those who encountered John the Baptist in the wilderness once we encounter Jesus, we can never again be happy to return ensconced in the comfort and superficiality of the world out of which we came.
Even though he was and remained a Jewish Saint, John the Baptist is a symbol of the Church. The figure of John serves as a warning to us today, to all believers, to the Church and to Church organisations of every age of our need to draw our strength from Christ alone, rather than from identifying with the cultural patterns and fashions of the day, which in any case come and go.
There will always be a tension in the relationship between Church and society. The Message of Jesus Christ has to be understood and lived out within the cultural realities of the world that is ours. Faith is never a flight from reality. It is not a comfort zone into which we can retreat and ignore the tough and demanding questions of today. Our faith must be twenty-first century faith. Yet faith is also a call to witness. This means that although faith has to be lived in whatever world we live in, it never simply belongs to that world and must be such that it enables us to discern and break out of what is conventional.
John was anything but a comfortable prophet and witness. The message of Jesus is not a message that can leave us comfortable or passive. The opposite of prophecy and witness is empty conformity. The opposite of integrity is not just dishonesty but also apathy and resignation and not doing anything.
This ceremony of investiture is not just some colourful folkloric relic of a culture of yesterday. It is a call to service and commitment in the Order and through the Order in the world of today. John the Baptist lived a life of extreme austerity and rejection of any of the superficialities of life. He never placed himself at the centre of his activities. This is what permitted John to be able to point others towards a then unknown Jesus and tell them: “He is the one”.
We pray for those who are to be invested this morning and for all the Members of the Order that their lives will be authentic pointers for others and especially for our young people to be able to recognise Jesus in our times as “the one”.