"FREEDOM AND DISCIPLESHIP" Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year "C") - June 27, 2010 [Texts: 1 Kings 19:16b, 19-21 [Psalm 16]; Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Luke 9:51-62]
During the coming week the school year will come to an end and we will celebrate Canada Day.
Children will look forward to being free from books, homework and routine; they will relish their freedom to play, to make new friends, to go away on holidays.
Thoughtful young people and adults will reflect on the freedom we enjoy in our country and wonder, perhaps, how we can work together to realize the vast potential of this nation.
In today's epistle reading, Paul speaks about freedom. Spiritual freedom. He warns the Galatians about an attitude of theirs that would render them slaves again. They wanted to observe all the ritual prescriptions mentioned in the Old Testament and so earn God's love.
Paul says that God has freely bestowed on them what they want, his favour. God has made them as free as his only Son Jesus. Their task, Paul adds, is to believe in this saving action of God's and, as Jesus did, to live out their lives in love.
Let us pray today for our children, for our nation and for ourselves. That the liberty we enjoy not set before us "an opening for self-indulgence". But rather that, as Paul urges, we may "serve one another in works of love" (Gal 5:13).
The school year ends this week. With it and the approach of holidays for many, there is a sense of freedom in the air. Freedom from routine, chores, work; freedom for new activities, pastimes, leisure and travel. Paul's letter to the Galatians takes up the theme of freedom.
In both the Old Testament lesson and the Gospel, the context of a journey to heaven by Elijah and Jesus leads to an example of and teaching on discipleship. There is food here for Christian thought of a kind that will challenge us if we let the scriptural word intrude upon our leisure time and make of it a time for profound reflection.
First reading: 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21
Chapters 17-19 of the First Book of Kings contains a cycle of stories concerning Elijah, perhaps deriving from an early "life" of Elijah. The nineteenth chapter deals with Elijah's desolation over the seeming failure of his mission; it includes Elijah's flight from Ahab and Jezebel's murderous intent (1 Kgs 19:1-4), his being fed by angels, his walk of 40 days and 40 nights' duration to Mount Horeb (Sinai) and his discovery there of God not in wind, earthquake and fire but in the "still small voice" (vv. 5-13).
A dialogue with God ensues, one in which Elijah tells God that, despite his zeal for true religion, his prophetic mission has been a failure (v. 14). God replies, telling Elijah that he should anoint kings in Aram and Damascus and anoint the prophet Elisha to succeed him; these will be God's agents in uncovering seven thousand men in Israel who have not followed false gods (vv. 15-18). Elijah signified Elisha's prophetic call by throwing his mantle over him; at that time it was thought that a person's garments represented him and even concealed some of his power (in this case, prophetic power; cf. 2 Kgs 2:8).
Elisha gave proof of his total obedience to the divine summons by destroying his oxen and plow. Thereafter, Elisha became Elijah's servant until the latter's fiery ascent into heaven, from which time the prophetic mantle passed to Elisha (2 Kgs 2:9-15a).
Second reading: Galatians 5:1, 13-18
Paul's epistle to the Galatians is his most polemical writing. After telling of his own Christian vocation and the freedom he enjoyed in proclaiming the gospel (Chapters 1-2), Paul reminded the Galatians of their own coming to faith, their own freedom in the Spirit, and then wondered why they might ever think of surrendering freedom (Chapters 3-4).
In Chapter 5 Paul initiates such an exhortation on the proper understanding of Christian freedom. Christian freedom is not only a freedom from slavery (v.1) but a freedom for service to others (v.13).
Paul's succinct description of the Christian life - which, unfortunately, is not part of today's lectionary reading - consists in a "faith which expresses itself through love" (v.6).
To those who want to embrace the many prescriptions of the Law in order to win God's favour, Paul says "the whole Law is summarized in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself" (v.14). Paul admonishes the Galatians by pointing out to them that their bickering and divisiveness is proof that they still have not made the law of love their own.
Paul goes on to suggest that they remain self-indulgent and are not yet led by the Spirit. He concludes with the observation that if they let themselves be led by the Spirit they will not be subject to the Law. This is because, in Paul's thinking, the Law has power only over the sinner who is condemned by the Law; the Christian, who is adopted as God's child through receiving the Spirit of Jesus, by adoption shares in that life of freedom lived by God's Son.
Gospel reading: Luke 9:51-62
This passage is a major turning point in the ministry of Jesus as it is described by Luke. Here we begin Luke's account of the "travel narrative" (9:51-19:44) which constitutes the central part of the gospel and is itself part of a more encompassing journey undertaken by Jesus, one that reaches its culmination with Jesus exalted at God's right hand and his bestowal of the Spirit on his followers (Lk 9:51-Acts 2:33).
We find several episodes in this gospel selection. Just as Jesus was rejected in his home village in Galilee (Lk 4:22-30) and later would be rejected by the religious and civil authorities in Jerusalem (22:47-23:53), so here he is rejected in Samaria (vv. 52-53).
James and John, illustrating their nickname "the sons of thunder" (cf. Mk 3:17), thought to call down fire upon the Samaritans, but Jesus would not allow it ("rebuked" them), and the small band moved on. In narrating this Samaritan episode Luke underlined Jesus' difference from Elijah, who was zealous in his punishment of those who had rejected the prophetic message; and Luke thereby emphasized the universal import of Jesus' mission, a mission which included even the "heretical" Samaritans.
Later on in the travel account, two of Jesus' references to Samaritans stress Jesus' kindness and compassion in their regard (cf. Lk 10:25-37; 17:11-19).
Finally, we have three once separate sayings on discipleship which round out the unit (Lk 9:57-58, 59-60, 61-62). A comparison with Matthew 8:19-22 shows that the first two sayings (about Jesus' wandering life-style and the injunction to "let the dead bury their dead") were linked in the earliest tradition, whereas the third saying is peculiar to Luke's gospel.
According to a common interpretation, the "spiritually dead (= those who do not listen to Jesus) should bury their dead" points to the radical demand made by Jesus' summons. It went against the highest of filial duties known in Judaism. Burial of the dead was a religious duty that surpassed all others, even the study of Torah; even priests, who could not normally touch the dead, could, according to Leviticus 21: 1-3, do so in the case of relatives who had died. For Jesus the primacy of preaching the Kingdom of God outweighed all other pressing demands, human or religious.
The third saying, about not looking back, may be implicitly contrasting Jesus with Elijah, who did allow Elisha to go home and say farewell to his family. Again, the stringent demands of the Kingdom are underlined.
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Canada and the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta
Today in Halifax, Fra' Matthew Festing, head of the Order of Malta, will assist at Mass at St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica and take part in a number of governmental-level ceremonies, some associated with the Centennial of Canada's Navy, that flow from relations that exist between Canada and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (as described below in a Government of Canada website):
On June 4, 2008, Canada established official relations with the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, through an exchange of letters between Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Order’s Grand Master.
Founded in 1048 as a monastic community dedicated to helping the sick and the needy, the Order was originally known as the Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem. Through the Middle Ages, it evolved into a religious and military chivalrous order of the Roman Catholic Church and is commonly known today as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM). It is the sole successor to the original Order of 1048.
The Order continues its medical and humanitarian work today, helping victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters by providing medical assistance, caring for refugees, and distributing medicines and basic equipment for survival. Through its development assistance program, Canada works with the Order in many parts of the world, in particular for the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The Ambassador of Canada to the Holy See is Canada’s official point of contact with the Order. The Diplomatic, Consular and Other Representatives in Canada publication lists "SMOM - Sovereign Military Order of Malta - Canadian Association" in the section "International Organizations and Other Offices" (Source: www.canadainternational.gc.ca)
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FRA' MATTHEW FESTING
FRA’ MATTHEW FESTING, the Order's Grand Prior of England, was on March 11, 2008 elected Prince and Grand Master of the Order of Malta. The new grand master was chosen in a secret ballot by the Complete Council of State. After receiving the approval of the Pope, His Most Eminent Highness swore the Oath before the council and the Cardinal Patronus of the Order, Cardinal Pio Laghi.
Now sixty, Fra’ Matthew was, before his election, an art expert for the auction house Sotheby’s. The Prince is the son of Field Marshal Sir Francis Festing who, as Chief of the Imperial General Staff, was the effective head of the British Army. Sir Francis converted to Catholicism and married a member of the Riddells of Swinburne Castle, a prominent recusant family. Through his mother, Fra’ Matthew is descended from the Blessed Sir Adrian Fortescue, an English Knight of Malta who was martyred for the Faith in 1539. The grand master’s brother Andrew Festing, RP is a noted portraitist.
As a child, Fra’ Matthew lived in Egypt and Singapore where his father held army postings, and was educated at Ampleforth Abbey in Yorkshire and St. John’s College, Cambridge. Passing out from Sandhurst, he was commissioned an officer in the Grenadier Guards, Britain’s most senior infantry regiment. (The Coldstream Guards are actually older, but their seniority was reduced for backing Cromwell in the Civil War). Holding the rank of Colonel in the Territorial Army, Fra’ Matthew served the Queen as Deputy Lieutenant for Northumberland for many years, and was appointed OBE.
Having joined the Order of Malta in 1977, Fra’ Matthew took solemn vows in 1991 and was appointed Grand Prior of England in 1993, when the Grand Priory was resurrected after 450 years in abeyance. In that post he led humanitarian missions to Kosovo, central Serbia, and Croatia, and has attended the annual British pilgrimage to Lourdes with the handicapped and the disabled.
The Order of Malta has been remarkable in that it has had no qualms about modernization while at the same time unabashedly keeping to its ancient traditions. Fra’ Matthew intends to continue the centuries-long tradition of the Order of Malta: to defend the Faith, to serve the Poor.
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The Order of Malta in the National Capital/Archdiocese of Ottawa
Some of the Knights and Dames of Malta came together for the annual Mass on the Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist and joined me for a reception at my residence afterwards. Here is the homily on the occasion, with some photos from the reception:
SOLENNITÉ DE LA NAISSANCE DE SAINT JEAN BAPTISTE, Messe avec les membres de l’Ordre de Malte, 24 juin 2010 – Basilique cathédrale Notre-Dame, Ottawa, ON [Textes : Isaïe 49, 1-6; Psaume 138; Actes 13, 22-26; Luc 1, 57-66.80]
« Son nom est Jean »
Jean est avant tout l’envoyé de Dieu, le témoin de la lumière, celui qui a prophétisé le Christ et qui l’a montré aux hommes. Il a été choisi dès le sein maternel, et le moment le nommer a été pour Zacharie, son père, l’occasion d’être témoin de l’Esprit. Dans la prière de louange qui jaillit de ses lèvres, il annonce notre Rédempteur et son œuvre de libération.
Dans l’Église, on ne fête pas la naissance des saints, mais le jour de leur mort qui devient alors leur vraie naissance au ciel. Il n’y a que trois exceptions toutefois au calendrier liturgique : la nativité de Jésus, celle de Marie sa mère, et celle de Jean le Baptiste.
Lui que Jésus nomme « le plus grand parmi les prophètes » (Luc 7, 26), il a passé sa vie à vouloir diminuer pour que grandisse le Christ. Il n’a jamais revendiqué un rôle qui n’était pas le sien. Il n’aurait jamais pu prévoir la dévotion que toute l’Église lui voue. Sa naissance est célébrée avec solennité.
John the Baptist is the Patron Saint of the Sovereign Order of Malta. Your Order, dedicated to the defence of faith and to assist the poor and the suffering, can be proud to have such a model to imitate. Almost ten centuries after your foundation (1050), you are still faithful to your vocation. And as in the case of any fidelity, yours is not static. Each member embodies the ideals of your Order, according to their talents and in their own context.
“His name is John.” The meaning of this name is “grace from God”, that is, the one in whom is grace. This name is a proclamation of the Gospel: John points to the Lord who is coming, He through whom grace is given to the world.
Dames and Knights of the Order of Malta, you have the privilege to recognize Christ present and hidden in those who suffer, in those who are impoverished because of natural disasters or other reasons. Your generosity is not only legendary, but quite actual. Your assistance rapidly reaches those in need throughout the world. There is no emergency situation that does not find in you judicious and rapid aid. I would like to express the Church’s gratitude.
Dames et Chevaliers de l’Ordre de Malte, vous avez le privilège de reconnaître le Christ présent et caché dans ceux qui souffrent, dans ceux qui sont appauvris par des séismes ou d’autres raisons, et dans le besoin. Votre générosité est non seulement légendaire, mais très actuelle. Votre aide concrète répond rapidement aux besoins qui surgissent partout, et il n’y a pas de situations d’urgence qui ne trouvent pas en vous une aide judicieuse et empressée. Permettez-moi de vous exprimer, au nom de l’Église, toute notre reconnaissance.
Dans cette eucharistie, demandons à Jean Baptiste d’intercéder afin que chacun de nous devienne témoin du Christ, lampe qui brûle et qui éclaire.