Noted author Father James Martin addresses Order of Malta

BRIGHTON -- "Today we gather on the feast of so great a pope, Pope St. John Paul II," Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley told over 150 members of the Order of Malta at their annual Boston area Mass and dinner at St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Oct 22.

Knights and Dames and auxiliaries of the Order of Malta, as well as several prospective members, came from the entire New England region to attend the event, which began with a Mass celebrated by Cardinal O'Malley in the seminary chapel.

In his homily, Cardinal O'Malley remembered Carolyn Lynch, a longtime Dame of Malta who passed away in Oct. 1.

"It is very fitting for us to remember her here," he said.

Cardinal O'Malley also praised Pope Francis' visit to the United States, noting that it seemed "our whole country was on retreat."

"It is a great honor to work with him in the Council of Cardinals, to interact with this extraordinary man who has fascinated the world through his humility and simplicity with his wisdom and goodness," he added. "He truly reflects the themes of St. Francis."

"We certainly have been so blessed in our lifetime to have had such extraordinary popes," he said.

"The role of the pope flows from Peter's vocation in the Gospels," the cardinal explained, noting that the vocation is cemented in the Gospel where Jesus asks Peter three times, 'Do you love me?'

"Jesus engages Peter in a very dramatic dialogue," to erase the three times Peter denied him, Cardinal O'Malley said. "This is a call for Peter to start again."

He added that many times we too receive a "call to begin again" and that God "never tires of giving us another chance."

"In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, Jesus is asking each of us, 'Do you love me?' Then love each other, take care of each other and come follow me."

At the conclusion of the Mass, the cardinal recited a special prayer for the six new members to be invested into the order in November.

Following the Mass, attendees were invited to the seminary refectory for the dinner served by seminarians from St. John's.

The first speaker of the evening was a young man who shared his experience with the Order of Malta.

In 2013, Eric Donovan, who is a quadriplegic, together with his caregiver were chosen to travel with the Order of Malta as a "Malade" (French word for "sick") on their annual pilgrimage to Lourdes. Each year, over 5,000 pilgrims -- members of the order, auxiliaries, clergy, physicians and nurses -- bring "Malades" and their caregivers to Lourdes from throughout the world.

"I went to Lourdes for a miracle, and many would think that my miracle would be an obvious one," Donovan said. "I got my miracle, to say the least. I came home from Lourdes with hope. I came home from Lourdes with peace. I came home from Lourdes with a purpose."

Following dinner, the keynote address was delivered by renowned author Father James Martin, SJ, whose address focused on Jesus' humanity and divinity.

Father Martin began his address recounting his personal experience at a place called the "Bay of Parables" in Galilee, where Jesus likely taught his disciples.

"All around us was this: rocky ground, fertile ground and thorn bushes. Does that sound familiar?" he said, adding that "when Jesus used objects from nature to convey his message -- seeds, buds, wheat -- he wasn't talking in generalities."

"It grounded the Gospels and Jesus in a way I could never imagine," he said.

"Jesus, the fully divine Son of God, is also fully human," he stressed. "Jesus was born and lived and died. The child called Jeshua entered the world as helpless as any newborn."

Father Martin admitted that seeing Jesus' humanity is "a stumbling block" for many, "but that's only part of the story."

"If Jesus' humanity is a stumbling block for many people, his divinity is even more so," he said. "For a rational, modern mind, talk of the supernatural can be disturbing, even causing embarrassment."

And, while he said Jesus's humanity is a difficulty for some, his divinity is a difficulty for others.

"Many people today admire Jesus but stop short of believing him to be divine," he said.

"We tend to think of a lot of Jesus' being divinely inspired because he was the Son of God -- which is true, absolutely true -- but it also comes from his human experience, from his own life," Father Martin said.

"It is both his divine inspiration and his connection to the Father...and his humanity, his experience as a human being" that mold his teachings, he said.

"I invite you to think about Jesus both fully human and fully divine," he concluded. "It is a beautiful mystery, the most beautiful mystery I know."

Speaking to The Pilot following the dinner, Boston-area Order of Malta chairperson Damien Devasto reflected on the evening.

"It was wonderful to come together to celebrate the Eucharist, break bread and rejoice in our mission," Devasto said, noting that "this gathering was made even more special in this time where we find ourselves with Pope Francis and leaders such as Cardinal Seán O'Malley inspiring us to celebrate our mission with renewed purpose."

DeVasto explained that the Order of Malta's mission is threefold.

"Our mission is first to be the hands of Christ to those in need, with a special eye to those on the margins who may not be seen by society...Our further mission is to defend the faith, which historically was done in a literal way, but as time has evolved, we achieve this now through supporting the hierarchy, the institutional Church and by building and growing the Catholic faith...Through those actions, we come to the third mission which is to come closer to Christ."

"Cardinal Sean's homily was moving and inspirational," he continued. "Through celebrating the life of John Paul II and holding up his famous call of 'Be not Afraid,' the cardinal encouraged us to think beyond following Christ 'at a safe distance.'"

According to its website, the Order of Malta was founded close to the year 1048.

"Merchants from the ancient Marine Republic of Amalfi obtained from the Caliph of Egypt the authorization to build a church, convent, and hospital in Jerusalem to care for pilgrims of any religious faith or race," the website explains.

Over the course of history, the order has taken up arms to defend the faith in the island of Malta. During the two world wars, members of the Order of Malta helped treat the wounded in several hospitals throughout Europe.

Today, the order operates in more than 120 countries, bringing the love of Christ to those in need. It is the only surviving order from the Middle Ages that is both religious and sovereign. The Boston area chapter was established in 1974, and currently has over 250 knights, dames and auxiliary members from Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Rhode Island. More information on the Boston area's mission and activities is available at