11 October 2008

Bl. Pope John XXIII - Bailiff Order of Malta

Today is the memorial for the newest member of The Order of Malta to be beatified, Blessed Pope John XXIII. After Napolean forced the Order out of Malta there was a period of uncertainty regarding the future of the Order. They relocated to Rome in 1834, later in 1879 Pope Leo XIII restored the grand mastership of the Order and then in June of 1961 after nearly 10 years of deliberation Pope John XXIII approved the new Constitutional Charter of the Order.

By this time, an important new development had been underway since the 1920s: the appointment of Knights and Dames of Magistral Grace which is to say, knights and dames, mostly outside of Europe, who were not of noble descent but by the grace and favor of the Grand Master were admitted to what had previously been a category restricted to nobility.

He also contributed to the development of the 2nd class members of the Order, those In Obedience.

When he met with the Knights in Obedience in 1961, Blessed John XXIII provided them with his own motto: Obedientia et Pax. Angelo Roncalli had adopted this moto when he was ordained a bishop, and it became the guiding principle of his life. John XXIII took these words from Cesare Baronius, who used to say them every time he kissed the foot of the statue of St. Peter.

Baronius was the most eminent historian of his day, and also a close friend of St. Philip Neri. St. Philip knew that someone with Cesare’s abilities would receive adulation (he was named a cardinal), and in many ways great and small he called his friend to a deep spirit of humility. For example, in spite of Baronius’s erudition St. Philip assigned him to work in the kitchen, so much so that Baronius wrote his name on the wall, followed by the words: “perpetual cook.”
From the example of Cardinal Baronius, Angelo Roncalli drew the lesson that obedience meant a willingness to let go of one’s own preferences, to accept whatever duties needed to be done, and not to take one’s position too seriously. In this way, obedience leads to peace. John XXIII confided at the end of his life that this was the secret of his serenity.

To enter into the Second Class of our Order should thus be understood, not as a step up, but as a step down. Pre-eminence in a Christian context is tied to deeper humility and greater generosity

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