Between November 10 and November 13, 2011 the Knights and Dames of the Order of Malta (American Association) held their annual meeting in New York City. Events included four Masses, a general meeting, discussions of the Lourdes Committee and Medical Committee, and a well-received talk by Father Jim Martin on the positive role of humor and mirth in one’s own spiritual life. Over 600 people attended the dinner where Father Martin spoke, and he was available afterwards to speak with members and make available his latest book Between Heaven and Mirth. (Father Jim has attended four pilgrimages to Lourdes with the Order and has written about one of these in Lourdes Diary.)
The Order of Malta (full name: Sovereign Military Order of Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta) is a lay religious order that was recognized in 1113 by the papacy. As such, it is an organization twice as old as the Jesuits. For nearly 700 years it had a military purpose which included protecting travelers on pilgrimages as well as establishing hospitals. Its military function ended nearly 200 years ago and its activities since are devoted to charitable works around the world. During the year of formation, prospective members learn that “the poor are your lords and masters.”
Each member recites the daily prayer:
“Lord Jesus, thou has seen fit to enlist men for thy service among the Knights and Dames of St. John of Jerusalem. I humbly entreat thee through the intercession of the Most Holy virgin of Philermo, of Saint John the Baptist, Blessed Gerard and all the saints and blessed of our Order, to keep me faithful to the traditions of our Order.
“Be it mine to practice and defend the Catholic, the Apostolic, the Roman faith against the enemies of religion; be it mine to practice charity towards my neighbors, especially the poor and sick. Give me the strength I need to carry out this resolve, forgetful of myself, ever learning from the holy Gospel a spirit of deep and generous Christian devotion, striving ever to promote God’s glory, the world’s peace, and all that may benefit the Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. Amen.”
Of special interest to me was the meeting of the Medical Committee held at 7:30 am Friday at the Intercontinental Hotel. Chaired by Thomas J. Forlenza, M.D. Presentations included the work of Malta in establishing a hospital in Haiti and of combining spirituality with service. Father Joseph Cavoto, S.A., priest and social worker, noted “as witnesses of Christ we tend to the sick and the poor, not bound by geography but only by our own enthusiasm for the Gospel.”
Several members of the committee including myself discussed the lifelong needs of developmentally disabled and autistic persons, especially in view of deaths and abuses noted November 5, 2011 in the New York Times, and there was support given for creating service project in the future for the developmentally disabled. The future of the Order depends on it newest members, and during an orientation session held on Thursday November 10, they were reminded that the charitable works of the Order were a means to an end: the sanctification of one’s life and soul.
Monsignor Robert T. Ritchie, chaplain (and Rector of St. Patrick’s Cathedral) reminded everyone to “stand up for what is good, holy, and positive about the Roman Catholic Church. Do whatever you can to let others know that you are someone who makes the Catholic Church part of your life. You should not be afraid to stand up to say, ‘I love the Church and I am proud to be of the Roman Catholic faith of God.’”
William Van Ornum