I set thee apart for myself

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S Giov Batt.jpg

Yesterday, at the invitation of the Chancellor of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Malta in Ireland, I offered Holy Mass and preached in honour of the glorious patron of the Order, in Saint Mary's, Haddington Road, Dublin.

Mass in Honour of Saint John the Baptist
Patron of the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John
of Jerusalem, of Rhodes, and of Malta
22 June 2013

"I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother's womb; before ever thou camest to birth, I set thee apart for myself" (Jeremias 1:5).

The Word of God, Alive and Full of Energy

This word from God, dear brothers and sisters, uttered in mystery long ago, and received in faith by the prophet Jeremias, and applied, by a splendid intuition of the Church to your glorious patron Saint John the Baptist, becomes today, by the singular grace of this Holy Mass, a word addressed to each of us, to you and to me.

The word of God is not uttered once and for all, and then, locked away, as it were, in some sort of sacred archive. When the word of God is proclaimed in the sacred liturgy, it rises to newness of life; it is invested with a wondrous energy; it becomes efficacious, doing in us that for which it comes forth from the mouth of God. Thus do we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews: "God's word to us is something alive, full of energy; it can penetrate deeper than any two-edged sword, reaching the very division between soul and spirit, between joints and marrow, quick to distinguish every thought and design in our hearts: (Hebrews 4:12). I beg you, then, in the words of the psalmist: "Would you but listen to his voice today! Do not harden your hearts" (Psalm 94:8).

Claimed and Set Apart by God

It is to you, then, that the Word of God comes today. It is addressed directly to each of you, a blazing arrow shot from the heart of God into your hearts: "I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother's womb; before ever thou camest to birth, I set thee apart for myself" (Jeremias 1:5).

One becomes a member of the Order of Malta not by mere social circumstances, nor by mere human intervention, but by a mysterious design of God, and by a gracious summons of His mercy. It is a vocation. Implicit in the Church's doctrine of the universal call to holiness -- that is, that you and I are called to be saints, nothing less than saints -- are these astonishing truths: God claimed you -- you -- for His own before ever he fashioned you in your mother's womb. Before ever you came to birth, God set you apart for Himself. This is the premise upon which your membership in the Order of Malta rests. This is the divine message that shapes all the rest, and gives it meaning.

The Call to Holiness

Holiness cannot be stereotyped. Holiness comes in a splendid variety of forms, and colours. There is no age, no state in life, no occupation, no background, no place, nor race, nor culture that is, of itself, foreign to holiness. We, therefore have no excuse. God would have each us become a saint. To resist the call to holiness is to resist the will of God. "This is the will of God," says the Apostle, "your sanctification" (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

In the Order of Malta

The particular form of holiness to which you are called will be shaped, then, and coloured by your membership in the Order of Malta. What exactly does this mean? What might your holiness look like? Your charism -- that is to say, the special identifying grace that makes your Order what it is in the Church -- has been summed up in two Latin terms: Tuitio Fidei and Obsequium Pauperum, which I should like to render respectively as The Faith, Contemplated and Upheld, and The Poor, Served with All Devotedness. The second of these, The Poor, Served with All Devotedness, is motivated by and sustained by the first, The Faith, Contemplated and Upheld. For this reason, today, and in the context of the Year of Faith, I should like, for a moment, to consider the first of these terms: Tuitio Fidei.

Look, See, Contemplate

The Latin word tuitio is rooted in the verb tuere meaning, first of all, to look at; to see; to fix one's gaze upon; or, if you will, to contemplate. Our English word intuition -- a knowledge gained by looking deeply into something -- is derived from the same verb. Your first duty, then -- and what a sweet and life-giving duty it is -- is to gaze upon Christ in the mysteries of the faith; to look, not only at them, but into them; and then to be so changed by your contemplation, that you translate it, necessarily, into the devoted service of Christ in His poor.

How does one fix one's gaze upon the mysteries of the faith? Where does one find Christ in His mysteries so as to look upon Him? "We", you are undoubtedly thinking, "are not monks". We are people engaged in the frenzy and fury of a society increasingly hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ; to the mission of His Church, one holy, Catholic, and apostolic; and to the expression of the faith in public life. All the more reason, dear brothers and sisters, to commit yourselves to the Tuitio Fidei upon which your vocation to holiness in the Order of Malta is founded, and by which it is quickened and sustained.

The Sacred Liturgy, Wellspring and Summit

The Tuitio Fidei (The Faith, Contemplated and Upheld ) begins and flourishes in the sacred liturgy; it bears abundant fruit in the Obsequium Pauperum (The Poor, Served with All Devotedness), and returns to the sacred liturgy. This is, simply put, the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, which called the sacred liturgy the wellspring and the summit of the life and action of the Church (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, art. 10).

Your vocation to holiness, your summons to real sainthood as members of the Order of Malta, will be proportionate to your contemplation of Christ in His mysteries, and this by means of your actual participation in the sacred liturgy of the Church. Already in 1903 -- one-hundred-ten years ago -- Pope Saint Pius X called "active participation in the most holy mysteries" that is, in the liturgy, "the foremost and indispensable font of the true Christian spirit" (Motu Proprio, Tra le sollecitidini).

Today's Holy Mass is but one opportunity to do precisely this. It is an occasion of grace freely given you by God and by the Church to be quickened in your unique vocation as -- yes -- saints of the Order of the Malta. "I claimed thee for my own before ever I fashioned thee in thy mother's womb; before ever thou camest to birth, I set thee apart for myself" (Jeremias 1:5).

Under the Hand of God

We heard, concerning John the Baptist, in the Holy Gospel: "And indeed the hand of the Lord was with him. The child grew up and his spirit matured. And he lived out in the wilderness until the day he appeared openly to Israel" (Luke 1: 66, 80).

Submit to the hand of the Lord today, by placing yourselves humbly and willingly under the immense, and tender, and powerful liturgy of His Church. Open your eyes, your ears, and all your senses to every word uttered, to every note sung, to every gesture, and movement, and to the sacred silence which envelops this Mass and allows for the penetration of its particular grace into the most secret place of your souls.

Ready to Appear Openly

It will happen with you, as it happened with Saint John the Forerunner. You will grow up. Your spirit will mature. Having fixed your gaze upon the faith presented, and actualized, and communicated in the sacred liturgy -- Tuitio Fidei -- you will be ready to appear openly, not to Israel, as did Saint John over two-thousand years ago, but to your families, to society, to Ireland today, just as it is, -- caught up in the noble battle for the sacredness of human life in the sanctuary of the womb; to Ireland today, beset by dire predictions of the end of Catholicism -- as men and women called to nothing less than holiness, and committed, body and soul to the devoted service of the poor. "So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16).

To the Altar of the Lamb

All of this begins -- and all of it must return -- to the altar of the Holy Sacrifice. There, the Lamb is immolated; there the Lamb is offered; there the Lamb is given us as food and drink. It is time to hasten to the altar, for I hear the voice of the Baptist, the "Friend of the Bridegroom" (John 3:29), saying, "Behold the Lamb of God" (John 1:36).


What a rich and beautiful homily!

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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