Cardinal praises Order of Malta for helping 'build civilization'

BRIGHTON -- "Love must be our great ideal," Cardinal Seán P. O'Malley impressed upon the nearly 120 knights, dames and auxiliaries of the Order of Malta who attended the order's annual Boston area Mass and dinner held Oct. 21 at St. John Seminary in Brighton.

The gathering began with a Mass celebrated in the seminary chapel and presided by Cardinal O'Malley.

In his homily, the cardinal spoke of the importance of stewardship.

"We must be convinced that our God is the God of history," he said.

"Jesus speaks about money, not as dangerous, but as something to be aware of," he continued, noting that Jesus often taught about money in the Gospels, such as the widow's mite and the story of Lazarus and the rich man.

He noted that there six priorities of Jesus; the first was "taking care of the sick," followed by "preaching the Gospel."

"Mercy is the first priority because that is the context in which we preach," he said.

Cardinal O'Malley cautioned that "we cannot romanticize poverty," but stressed that the mission of the Order of Malta helps "build a civilization where people are more important than money."

At the conclusion of the Mass, the cardinal recited a special prayer over the new members who will be invested at this year's Investiture Ceremony, to be held in New York in November.

Following the Mass, attendees were invited to the seminary refectory, where Laurie Cochran spoke of her experience travelling to Lourdes with the Order of Malta as a "malade," a French term meaning "one who is ill." Each year, the Order invites a number of malades for a week-long pilgrimage to Lourdes to experience the shrine's healing waters and a range of other spiritual activities that take place during the week.

"I am not the only malade here tonight," she began, "but I hope that my words will help convey a little of what we experienced in Lourdes."

"Of course, I had my fairy tale version of what my story would be like," she said. "But it was nothing like that at all."

Cochran, who has liver cancer, recounted how at Lourdes she was unable to stop crying, even though she was full of gratitude.

"For the first time I squarely faced that my time on earth may come to an end," she said. "If I did not hit bottom, I was very close to it."

Cochran added that in the months since returning from Lourdes, she has learned that Mary is always with her.

"On behalf of all the malades, we are full of gratitude, knowing deep in our hearts that we are not alone."

The evening's keynote address was delivered by Sister Constance Veit, LSP, the director of communications for the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order devoted to serving the elderly poor.

Sister Constance began her address noting how "we need to build bridges between the weak and the strong, the old and the young."

Taking small stuffed figures of the characters of the Christmas classic, "Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer," out of her knapsack, she recounted how "all too often many people feel like misfits," much like the deformed toys found on the Island of Misfit Toys.

She explained how the original 1964 television show did not end with Santa returning to the island, but that the network decided to alter its ending after a multitude of children wrote to NBC.

"In 1964, American children knew it was unacceptable to leave out those misfits just because they were different," she said.

"What has happened?" she asked the dinner guests, citing "disturbing" statistics such as more than one third of US senior citizens experience loneliness and two thirds of Americans admit they are uncomfortable dealing with people with disabilities.

"As a society, we tend to keep the elderly and those with disabilities at arm's length, when each of us is just an accident away from being disabled or a few years away from being elderly," she said.

Sister Constance urged the members of the Order of Malta to "take stock, find inspiration, do something and get others to do the same."

"It isn't difficult," she said. "When out in public, smile at people. Teach your children and grandchildren to perform random acts of kindness to seniors around you, sit with the senile or with the dying."

"As worthwhile as it is to do things for the disabled, it is more important to do things with the disabled," she continued.

"Wouldn't it be revolutionary if our contemporaries could say of us, 'See those Catholics -- see how they love one another!'" she said.

During the question and answer period following her talk, Sister Constance was asked about the long-standing lawsuit against the Little Sisters of the Poor with regard to the Obama HHS mandate.

"It's been a long journey and we are not yet at the finish line," she admitted. "We are pushing for one more safeguard from the Department of Justice. We are hopeful that our case may be resolved in the next week or so."

Following Sister Constance's address, Jim Hogan, father of Chris and Tom Hogan, a set of twins with special needs who attended the International Summer camp of the Order of Malta for Disabled Youth addressed the guests.

Standing with one arm around each son, he said tearfully, "As you can see, these two young men with me are those misfit toys."

He added that, although on the outside many may just see their disabilities, both sons love downhill skiing, both have graduated from high school and both are employed full-time.

He praised the young people who volunteer at the week-long summer camp.

"Within the Order of Malta, you have some youth who are unbelievable... with such love and compassion that it's amazing," he said.

Speaking to The Pilot following the event, Order of Malta Boston Area Chair Damien DeVasto expressed his gratitude to Cardinal O'Malley for his presence at the Mass and dinner, and also to St. John Seminary for hosting the gathering.

"It was wonderful to be together with Cardinal O'Malley as we gathered as a community. We deeply appreciate his joining with his conferees of the Order of Malta this special evening at St. John's Seminary."

DeVasto also noted the powerful witness of the evening's speakers.

"I know Sister Constance's message resonated deeply with our members. Also, through Laurie (Cochran), Jim (Hogan) and their families sharing the story of their journey with us -- and the way that we have been with them on that journey -- allows us to see the impact we have in Lourdes, in Europe and here in the Archdiocese of Boston," he said.