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RELIGION LITURGY AND LIFE

Lenten reflection for the order of malta

Reading from Mark  Ch1: Vs 14 –  20

14 After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the gospel from Godsaying15 ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the gospel.’16 As he was walking along by the Lake of Galilee he saw Simon and Simon’s brother Andrew casting a net in the lake — for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, ‘Come after me and I will make you into fishers of people.’18 And at once they left their nets and followed him. 19 Going on a little further, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John; they too were in their boat, mending the nets. 20 At once he called them and, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the men he employed, they went after him.

It was, I think, Origen, who said that it was not just the death that Jesus died but the life that he lived which was pleasing to God. If we think of Our Lord’s life, we see how he used his senses for others. He saw Zacchaeus up his tree, he heard Bartimaeus at the back of the crowd, he felt the touch of the woman with an issue of blood, he smelt the decaying body of Lazarus and spoke to the man with demons. He touched the untouchables; he ate and drank with publicans, tax collectors and sinners.

Or, to put it in the words of scripture from the First Letter of John, chapter 1, verse 1: “We declare to you what was from the beginning what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands.” This speaks of the sheer and impact of Jesus, given for us. So we must never underestimate how, in whatever we are called to do as members of the Order of Malta, our physical presence is a sign of God’s blessing and a sign of the Good News of Jesus Christ in our present day. It is also a sign of God’s abiding love for all and everyone whoever they are and wherever they are.

We are living in an age of information overload – driven by means of communication which have profoundly changed the nature of our relationships with one another and our lives and the way we live them. You can even have a “best friend” you have never met  through the internet and other computerised ways of communication– and before you scoff, we need to hit the “pause” button to reflect on how we relate to God?

But however we look at it, this is the age of vicarious living – and of vicarious religion. Many people want other people to do religion for them, no longer belonging to or believing in god. This results in a sense of the irrelevance of the church with many using the recent difficulties within the church as an excuse for not being there. There is much spiritual hunger out there and how are we doing when it comes to witnessing to the Christian and more especially the catholic message in our modern world?

Answering the call of Jesus Christ is based on listening and being ready to respond. Listening is an art in itself. It requires us to do more than just hear things that sound good to us. Listening requires us to filter out all the noise that is around us and begin listening for the still, small voice of God that usually comes to us quietly, often through odd connections with people, sometimes strangers, who see something unique in us and call it forth.

Recently someone who was and still is having difficulties with her only son voiced her concern about unburdening herself to me, expressing her fears and worries and even crying to me. I told her that it was a privilege for me to be there for her as it is for all of us to be a presence in so many ways for other people as members of the Order.

Being able  to respond is quite another thing. There is a musical play frequently performed around the Christmas season, called “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” which was composed by Gian Carlo Menotti.

In this story, Amahl is a young boy who must use a crutch to walk, and he has a bad habit of telling fibs.One night as he is sitting outside, his mother calls for him to come inside, and when he tells her that he sees an enormous star “as big as a window” over their house, she does not believe him. Later that night there is a knock at their door, and three kings, the Magi, stand before them, asking if they could rest overnight in the house, explaining that they are on a long journey to give gifts to a wondrous child. After the kings fail asleep, Amahl’s mother, who is worried that her son will become a beggar, tries to steal gold from one of the kings. When she is caught, Amahl tries to attack the king’s guard who is holding her. The king is filled with mercy when he sees Amahl’s pitiful defense of his mother, and the king tells her to keep the gold, explaining that the Holy Child, for whom the gold was intended, will not need it, because his kingdom will not be built on earthly wealth. Amahl’s mother, filled with shame and remorse, begs the kings to take back the gold, and wishes she had a gift to send the Holy Child. Amahl gives the kings his crutch, his only possession, to give to the child. And miraculously,

Amahl’s leg is healed, and he sets off with the kings to see the child and give thanks. In this marvelous tale, both music and story work together as we witness an intervention by God into the life of a poor family, an intervention that results in profound change. There are many such interventions in our lives and and as a result of these interventions we are able to do the work that god calls us to As members of the Order.

The call of Christ should  be seen as an intervention because that is what it is. “Follow me and you will fish for people,” says Jesus to the disciples. The call is not always a loud command; it is often a quiet suggestion, but it is always an intervention that challenges us to change direction, move to a new way of thought and life. How do we as members of the Order of Malta reflect the life that Jesus led in our dealings with other people, family friends and those whom we serve in our commitment to the Order our lords the sick and our lords the poor.  A calling that calls us to serve the faith and our Lord’s the sick and Our Lords the Poor in the here and now of today in the spirit of those who founded the Order over 900 years ago.

Most of us have moments when we wish we were other than ourselves. Stripped of our masks and pretence and all that we have accumulated to clothe us, standing naked before God we fear that we are not a pretty sight :  But God loves us and has called us, and remains faithful to us with all our masks and pretences lumps and bumps. Only when we return to this fact – and this fact alone, can we be agents of transformation. We can always be forgiven, re-shaped, re-molded and transformed so that we are made  and remade         as beautiful as God intended. After this remolding we are truly what god wants us to be, faithful and faith filled individuals not afraid of the message of the gospels and not afraid to pass the message on to others.

The summons in this gospel reading calls us as it called those who heard  to a radically new way of life that  he contradicted the old way, and offered happi­ness not in the material things of the world, but in the riches of the spirit that was given to all people  alike. Each person was to learn his need of God, be of a gentle spirit, Along the way, we shall have astounded both others and ourselves, converted them—and ourselves, with a new kind of merciful love. “I am the Way,” said Jesus. It is a way of ever new and deep discovery, advanced in humble love, sign-posted in the clear direction of an everlasting joy.

Let us not be afraid to follow the road that Jesus points us towards that is the road of loving mercy the mercy of the beatitudes which we hold dear in the order.

Let us go back to Origen, who said that it was not just the death that Jesus died but the life that he lived which was pleasing to God. If we think of Our Lord’s life, we see how he used his senses for others. He touched the untouchables; he ate and drank with publicans, tax collectors and sinners. Jesus was not afraid to be at one with all those who were the outcasts and so called sinners of his time as he is one with us in our time in the modern world of today. let us remember that The words of Jesus were there in his time and continue to be here today to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. May we who have ears listen and not be afraid to act, act to love the unloved, care for the those who have no one to care for them and show that we are not afraid to do so. My hope is that we will continue to listen to the voice of Jesus in the broken hearts, and in the victims of our society; and then we will be known for the love we show to one another as a caring and sharing community.

Attend to the pleas of your people with heavenly care,

O Lord, we pray,

that we may see what must be done

and gain strength to do what we have seen.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.

Adapted fromOpening prayer 1st week ordinary time

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