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‘Yours is a noble ideal and the Church is enriched by your presence’

Full text of Archbishop Vincent Nichols’s homily to the Order of Malta

By on Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Members of the Order of Malta process into Westminster Cathedral

Members of the Order of Malta process into Westminster Cathedral yesterday

Since his election to the See of Peter, Pope Francis has caught the imagination of the world. This he has done through word and deed. His call to love and respect those in our midst who are most poor and needy has been powerfully expressed in hundreds of images, flashed around the world, appearing in our newspapers. In doing this he is achieving two things.

First he is showing yet again that there are wellsprings of charity and care within every person. The fact that Pope Francis wins such widespread acclaim points to the truth that what he does is what so many aspire to do themselves: enrich their lives with practical charity towards those in need. This is a crucial truth of our human nature: when we give we are enriched.

The second thing being achieved by Pope Francis is that he is expressing in images the messages that Pope Benedict expressed in words. Often Pope Benedict told us that our proclamation of the Gospel is given credibility by our practice of charity. He told us that ‘the love of neighbour is a path that leads to the encounter with God’ and that ‘closing our eyes to our neighbour also blinds us to God’ (Deus Caritas Est para 16).

The message of the Church is clear: the practice of charity springs from the love of God; it is nurtured and strengthened by the love of God, and it expresses the love of God in our world today. St Augustine said ‘If you see charity, you see the Trinity’ (DCE para 19) for the rivers of practical love which flow from the hearts of believers come from the river of living water flowing from the side of Christ our Lord and are the work of the Holy Spirit, according to the will of the Father.

Pope Benedict also said that the entire activity of the Church is an expression of love that seeks the integral good of every person, that attends to suffering and need, both material and spiritual (DCE 19). Charity is therefore part of the nature of the Church, an indispensable expression of her very being! (DCE para 25). The Church, then, cannot neglect the service of charity anymore that she can neglect the celebration of the Sacraments or the very Word of God (DCE para 22). Charity arises from the fundamental and liberating words of the Lord which we hear today: ‘I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have loved you also must love one another (Jn 13.33).’

This is the context in which we come together in our Mass today, celebrating a special moment in the life of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, to give it its full name. It is now nine hundred years since Pope Paschal II, in his Bull ‘Pie Postulatio Voluntatis’ recognised the Knights of St John as a religious order with institutional independence and a vocation to care for the most vulnerable in society. The Order’s celebrations this year are, therefore, for one of the few institutions able to mark an anniversary that is 900 years old.

The Order of Malta has a long history of service to the poor, the sick and to pilgrims welcoming all those in need in its hospitals. Its work began in Jerusalem, then in Acre and Cyprus, then in Rhodes (1310-1522) and in Malta (1530-1798). From those beginnings in Jerusalem the Order has expanded across the centuries and across the world. It has faced many challenges, setbacks, vicissitudes, yet it has survived, and is now present in over a hundred countries.

The Sovereign Order of Malta is today a global institution offering professional medical, social and humanitarian aid. 13,500 members, 80,000 permanent volunteers and qualified staff of 25,000 professionals – most of whom are medical personnel and paramedics – form an efficient network that includes everything from hospital work, health care and emergency relief for the victims of war or famine, to intervention in areas hit by natural disasters, general medical care and social services. Your programmes are now active in 120 countries across the globe. The Order of Malta both supports and directly manages hundreds of medical centres, 20 hospitals, 30 ambulance teams, 110 homes for the elderly and groups of volunteers in 15 countries.

Today, in a special way, we focus on the presence of the Order here in Britain. Here there is a wide range of projects, from 79 care homes and sheltered housing projects for the elderly, to Dial-a-Journey in Scotland, to summer weekends for those with special needs, and national and international pilgrimages which are organised every year. You have recently established soup kitchens in a number of cities. That project in particular reflects the difficult age in which we are living, with its many social and economic problems. It underlines ever more clearly the imperative of faith, this essential element in the life of the Church, that we must care for those in need among us and response intelligently to the challenges of today. In this, you have not only a fine tradition from your historic past, but continue to give practical help today.

A new initiative, the Companions of the Order of Malta, illustrate this. They are a thriving group of friends and volunteers who assist the Order in your works in this country, particularly visiting the elderly in the Order’s Care Homes, and providing food for the homeless. The Companions have now also spread their wings, supporting projects in Kenya. The Companions work around the country in eight regional groups that are growing in size and activity.

Their energy is matched by a special group of young people – the Order of Malta Volunteers (OMV). These vibrant young people, with ages ranging from 17 to 29, fundraise for Order causes, organise pilgrimages, work with Order projects with the disabled young people, including in the Lebanon, join the international Order summer camp for those young people every year, and visit the terminally ill. They are also strong in their Catholic faith and in the spirituality that permeates all the works of the Order of Malta. They are a powerhouse for the future of Order activities in this country. Their dedication and enthusiasm are infectious. As one pilgrim explained: “They do it because they genuinely love people. And they love people because they genuinely love God.”

That simple expression is, in fact, drawn from the mission of the Order: ‘ tuitio fidei, obsequium pauperum’. ‘Tuitio fidei’: tutored, taught, fashioned by faith; obsequium pauperum: reverence, respect for the poor, expressed in action. This is the motivating force, the spiritual foundation, which inspires and guides your work. The tutoring of faith must give rise to this practical action. If it does not, then there is something amiss in the faith that is being celebrated.

To return, for a moment, to the teachings of Pope Benedict, we see that he insisted that the charitable work of the Church needs to be organised well if it is to be an ordered service to the community (DCE 20). Here the cohesiveness of the Sovereign Order is so important.

As Pope Benedict noted in his address to your members who gathered in Rome in February for a solemn celebratory Mass in St Peter’s Basilica, your Order, as a subject of international law, “aims not to exercise power and influence of a worldly character, but in complete freedom to accomplish its own mission for the integral good of man, spirit and body, both individually and collectively, with special regard to those whose need of hope and love is greater.” These are worthy aims indeed and your history is witness to their application. And they are lived and expressed within the wider body of the Church, in which unity and order in the work of charity is a particular responsibility of the bishop (cf Intima Ecclesiae Natura Art 6) while always respecting the autonomy proper to each institution and service. By working together we can strive to show just a little of the vision of the heavenly Jerusalem in which, through the loving presence of God, every tear is wiped away and where mourning and sadness are vanquished (Rev 21.5).

For this reason I am particularly glad to be celebrating this Mass with you today. I trust it will ‘put fresh heart’ into us all, to use the words from our First Reading (Acts 14.21). Indeed, I see in all of you special and generous co- workers in the Lord’s vineyard. As members of the Order, Companions of the Order, Order of Malta Volunteers and your friends, out of love for the Lord and his Church, you have a marvellous dedication to attend to the needs of so many today and a deep desire to thank God for all you have been given, expressing that thanks in your generous work. Yours is a noble ideal and the Church is enriched by your presence and by your unfailing loyalty, as hospitallers of the Order of Malta.

This is the full text of Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ homily to the Order of Malta at Mass with British Association of the Sovereign Order of Malta at Westminster Cathedral on April 28 2013

  • An onlooker

    Uplifting and moving.

  • $28180339

    “The second thing being achieved by Pope Francis is that he is expressing in images the messages that Pope Benedict expressed in words.”

    To me this statement sums up the pontificates of both Benedict & Francis, so far. I also read a particular progressive Catholic blog & they still dislike Pope Benedict because of his red shoes, fur cap & cape & his overall mannerisms. They are not able to see beyond the man in order to appreciate his words, few compared to JPII but equally powerful.

    On the other hand Pope Francis continues Benedict’s mission with simple actions & simple words that even a child can understand. Francis seems to be more in tune with the culture whether he is doing it consciously or subconsciously. He is creating picture-perfect moments with sound bites that the very busy world can comprehend. A Pope Benedict could not do that; he was writing & preaching to those who made time to listen.

    Finally, this is 1 of the best homilies that I have read in a long while that sums up the mission of the Catholic Church.

  • We are church

    Benedict XVI expressed just as much love and care for people-poor and others, as pope Francis. Kissing 15 babies, instead of 12 babies, is not necessarily a sign of more love and care. Also, pope Francis is younger and physically stronger, needless to say.

    Benedict, so it seems to me, spent considerably more time on preparing his homilies and the weekly papal audiences.

    This is not said to diminish pope Francis; he seems wonderful too, and has a very special charm of his own.

    We should understand that the tremendous intellectual gift of Benedict was sth extraordinary in the church’s history.and humbly thank God for this gift!

    How often do we see mediocre people being ctitizised in the media?!

    Benedict was very, very humble and somewhat shy. Which added to his credibility.

    In general, there seems, on the part of “leftist” so called catholics, a tendency of attacking and critisising Benedict, not because of any real motiv, but solely because of them having a big problem with people who are not “average”, but instead superior to almost everybodyt, in almost everything.

    Benedict XVI rose high above, he was soaring, when he wrote or spoke.

    I love and respect both Benedict and pope Francis very much. Pope Francis is also very gifted and talented and has a special charm.
    I pray for both of them..


  • $20596475

    This homily summarises much of that which I admire in the Catholic Church. The charity, and service to the poor, by those the Archbishop, and the Pope, speak of, are an example to us all.

    How I wish that some of those keyboard warriors to be found here would take it to heart, and spend less of their time making political points. Society would benefit, and so would the image of Catholicism.

  • James M

    It depends what one means by “political points”. Service to the poor is absolutely essential to the mission of the Church; in no way can it be regarded as an optional extra. In no way can the importance given it in the Gospels be evaded, and it would be wholly wrong to try to do that.

    But even when all that – and more – is said, service to the poor is not the only thing that matters. Love of God finds its litmus test in love of neighbour – but is not exhausted by it. Other things than serving the poor matter too – and they are easy to overlook, especially nowadays when the tendency is emphasise good works rather than right belief. The former tends to prized to the detriment of the latter – whereas they need and nourish each other. And both together imply, and presuppose a particular, Christian, vision of society at large – imperfect as that society must needs be in an imperfect world.

  • Frank

    I agree with you that the Knights of Malta are an example to us all.and that it would be nice if more keyboard warriors took this message to heart.
    Although not just the catholic ones and not only on this website by any means

    As I’m sure you know there is an awful lot going on in parishes all over this country and I for one would like see even more but how can we make this happen?

  • Erin Pascal

    Very good read and very well written. There is one sentence that really touched my heart and it is “..the practice of charity springs from the love of God; it is nurtured and strengthened by the love of God, and it expresses the love of God in our world today. ” This is very much true. There is no better feeling in the world than to share or give what you have to people who really need it more than you. Thank you for sharing this and may God bless you!

  • $20596475

    I have no doubt that, from a Christian viewpoint especially, this is true. Indeed we all need to find values and morals which help us build a decent society together.

    My point was not that it should not be done but that some appear to spend a lot of time banging on about how evil everyone else is, whilst real need is out there requiring urgent attention. I don’t excuse myself from this and will reflect upon it!

  • $20596475

    Thank you Frank. It is so nice to have a positive and thoughtful reply and I totally agree that this is not limited to Catholics. It applies to us all.

    There are lots of good people, from many walks of life, who see the need and want to help. Some have belief. Some don’t. I am inspired, where-ever I meet people, just how good they are, given the right leadership. This applies all over the world.

    What disturbs me though is how some with a strong belief seek to belittle those, like me, who don’t share it. There is no need for this. We ought to be able to set those differences aside and work together. Indeed in the country where I spend half of my life, which is strongly Catholic in nature, this is exactly what happens. They don’t care I am a non believer. They welcome and love me.

  • Ghengis

    The poor are not just those materially lacking but those lacking in love, health, happiness, dignity and freedom. We are mistaken if we think Jesus prioritized material poverty over all the other kinds of poverty; Marxists prioritize material poverty above freedom, happiness, and dignity and look where that gets us ie Soviet Union, China etc…

  • $20596475

    If you are cold, hungry, or sick and without any means to get medical treatment, these things tend to become important above all others.

    Before we attend to the spiritual we must ensure that people are in a position to accept our efforts. Putting the cart before the horse generally doesn’t get us very far.

  • Lyndon T Palmer

    Vincent Nicol appears to have reneged on the position taken by Cormac Murphy O’Connor to ensure that the case file will be weighed if a sainthood promotion cause is presented for Ryder or Cheshire.
    The situation favoured by Nicol, it seems, is that the UK Attorney General can keep inconvenient evidence secret. And in due course the Vatican can make its deliberations ill informed.
    In the evidence is the submission to Health Minister 1972 by Dr Nini Ettlinger GP and peer reviewed psychiatrist:
    “The homes are not a case of loving patients but of loving Sue Ryder loving patients”
    “Sue Ryder can only function when surrounded by people more in touch with human reality”
    “People are extraordinarily blinded by the smokescreen of charity”
    There are also the letters of Sqn Leader W W Jackson who resigned as a member of Sue Ryder and leonard Cheshire’s house cttee and campaigned for the charities to close and be absorbed by NHS to improve care standards.
    There is also Sue Ryder’s solicitor clarifications that she only registered her care home in the boarding house category thus avoiding the legal requirement to employ qualified staff.
    Saints ? Only if the Attorney General sits on the secrets. Over to you Vincent you old rascal.

  • Myshkin

    I completely disagree with your sentiment. There are more spiritually poor post-modern Westerners than will ever suffer bodily hunger or cold or lack of medicine. To say that “before” we attend to the spiritual we must FIRST attend to bodily needs, is incorrect. If need be, perhaps in the Third World, we need “preach always, and use words if necessary” by SIMULTANEOUSLY attending to spiritual poverty. But, too often, in the Western world, it seems that the Chanceries attend ONLY to providing food and clothing and shelter, while never attending to the deep spiritual poverty which is at the root cause of these material needs. In the Western world, the commonest cause of poverty is proven to arise from a lack of a father in the home. Why does this happen? Because people shack up and never marry, &/or the bio-father never is present and bio-mom has a succession of live-in boyfriends. This is FACT, provably THE leading cause of material poverty over here in the States.

  • $20596475

    Cold sick and hungry applies much more in the third world than in the west and it was to there that my remarks were directed.

    However, they apply to us just as well. Showing people you care, through relieving their physical needs, has to come first. Trying to preach to them whilst they are in no state to receive the message will be counter productive and cause resentment. Seeking to impose your own view of morality (about “shacking up” etc etc) on them, as the reason for their situation, will almost certainly rebound and is just unrealistic, idealistic nonsense. We need to find real solutions and not theoretical ones.

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